It Was A Beautiful Day

June 8, 2019

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This was two weeks ago. I don’t know how that happened, where the time went. Not that it passed particularly quickly or slowly, but that it . . . moved.

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The service at the church was beautiful. Poignant music. Heartfelt words. A lot of tears. Some laughs. Many hugs. There are a million stories that could come from that hour and a half at the church. And a million more that could come from the hour-long viewing beforehand.

Graveside. Sunny, mid-60s.

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Z could not have been been better behaved. She understood the day.

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Carla would have loved these flowers. A coworker relayed that Carla actually chose her spray. Her colleagues were more than eager and happy to oblige her. For this day. This one wish. Something in the way her coworkers regard her is particularly touching to me. They were also her friends, but there was something about their relationship that somehow resounds with me.

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Two weeks sometimes feels like a million years ago. Sometimes it feels like yesterday. These perceived lapses occupy the same space. Or maybe they’re layered on top of each other. Or interwoven. I don’t understand it. Maybe a part of me wants to believe that understanding it will help me feel better. But what I should understand is that I’ll feel better with time. Whether that time is in slow-motion or warp speed.

And “feeling better” isn’t a singular event. I’ve felt pretty darn ok in certain moments. Laughed, even. I’ll take what I can get.

I’ll give what I can, too.

Today is Blake and Carla’s 41st wedding anniversary.

This isn’t an easy month right now.

We’re all going to watch Reilly’s brother play in the Utah Symphony as they accompany a screening of Harry Potter and Goblet of Fire.

Should be fun.

Talk in Church

On July 30 2017, Reilly and I spoke in Church. I’ve decided to post my talk here for posterity.  And kicks. You’ll see that I spent the first third of the talk introducing us, since we are relatively new in our ward. I was pretty lighthearted and included some jokey inflections in my voice. Then I got a little more serious and decided to share more of myself, being just vague enough about my imperfections as well as admitting (vaguely) some of my struggles. If I spoke quickly enough, this talk would have been under 10 minutes, but I applied a nice cadence and switched up tempos throughout, so it ended up being closer to 15 minutes. Enjoy. Or not. 

Good morning. I am May Ryan. My handsome, smart, selfless, and sort of muscley and strong husband is Reilly Ryan. Reilly works at Diamond Fork Jr High in Spanish Fork, teaching 8th grade English. I work at a content and publishing company in Sugarhouse, maintaining a cancer diagnosis app. We’ve been married for five years and we have a 3yr old daughter named Z. We have been in the ward for 7.5 months, and we really love it here.

As more of an introduction, Reilly and I met in a Provo singles ward in August 2011. I was walking home from dinner at a friend’s house and happened upon ward prayer in my neighborhood cul-de-sac. I was new in the ward. Earlier that day at church someone had invited me over for a potluck, but I couldn’t remember where it was, and I wanted to check it out, even though I had just eaten.

While I’m not the most social person and I usually didn’t attend ward prayer, I needed to find out where this potluck was, but not because of the food. I was single, and because I was in a new ward, I had resolved to make myself try harder at getting to know people, even though large groups are intimidating.

I stepped into the crowd and asked a random person about the potluck. She said she didn’t know anything about it, but she pointed and said I could probably ask that bald guy over there. I didn’t see where she had pointed, so I approached the first bald guy I saw. That was Reilly.

We stood in the middle of that cul-de-sac, and I tuned everybody else out to focus on our conversation. I found out that we were both English majors. He graduated from the University of Utah, and I would be graduating that following April from BYU. We chatted about books and movies and music, and I was excited to talk with someone with whom I have so much in common.

Needless to say, Reilly Ryan thwarted my Sunday plans. During our chat, going to the potluck was the furthest thing from my mind. But it couldn’t have ended better.

We got married June 1, 2012. Our daughter Z was born in April 2014, when we were both in the middle of grad school. Our life together has been a marvelous journey so far.

Part of that journey includes speaking to you in church today. Time will tell if this experience ends up being marvelous or not. I’ll try to be optimistic.

In our remarks, Reilly and I will address the question, How will faith and obedience fortify me in today’s world? We will draw upon a talk by Elder L. Whitney Clayton from this past April’s General Conference called, “Whatsoever He Saith unto You, Do It.” This is a wonderful talk that has helped me focus my thoughts, and I pray that the Spirit will guide my words in their meaning and message.

Elder Clayton begins his talk with the story of the wedding at Cana in John chapter 2. Verses 1-11 read:

1 And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there:

2 And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage.

3 And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine.

4 Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come.

5 His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.

6 And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece.

7 Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim.

8 And he saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare it.

9 When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom,

10 And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now.

11 This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.

Elder Clayton points out that we recognize this story because it demonstrates Jesus’ power early on. It’s his first miracle. But as in most scripture stories, there can be multiple layers and lessons, and in this story, the lesson we focus on here regarding faith and obedience is in Mary’s instructions to the servants: “Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.”

Mary’s confidence reminds us of who she is and how she came to give such straightforward direction. Mary is the mother of Jesus. As many parents with their children, Mary knows her son more than anyone. She knows his quirks, his tendencies. She knows that he is sinless, he is perfect. The Joseph Smith Translation of Matthew 25:3 states, “he spake not as other men, neither could he be taught; for he needed not that any man should teach him.”

When Mary says to the servants, “Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it,” she’s saying she knows of the Savior’s divinity, his ability to save our souls. She’s saying that He is someone, the only one, we should have faith in.

How will faith and obedience fortify me in today’s world? The fourth Article of Faith says the first principle of the gospel is faith IN THE LORD JESUS CHRIST. Not just general faith. Faith in anything else will not sufficiently equip me to handle today’s seemingly numerous and relentless trials.

What is it about today’s world that makes life so difficult? What present challenges make faith and obedience especially crucial? We have many examples in the Bible and Book of Mormon of people struggling and exercising faith during those earlier dispensations. We have stories from early church history of saints facing different difficulties. We can gain inspiration from reading about all of these experiences. We can liken the principles taught to our lives. We know that we live in a unique time, and since the topic specifies today’s world, I have reflected on the years I have lived on the earth and some of the particular temptations that have tested my faith and obedience.

In the 80s, my dad introduced my mom to the church, and she was baptized when I was 6, and I got baptized when I was 8. I lived most of my childhood during the 80s in Florida, where I had a fascination with fire, and I remember taking books of matches from my house to the nearby playground and gathering kindling to start fires to watch them burn. These were always small fires that I extinguished pretty quickly, and this phase didn’t last very long. I’m not sure, but that was probably because I got caught and got in trouble. I conveniently don’t remember.

In the ’80s also emerged of MTV, which was really enticing with the adding of often spiritually toxic videos to already bad lyrics and a good beat and catchy melody. Media of all types had started to sneak their way into my mind.

The ’90s immersed my teenage and early adulthood years with increased intensity of what I was exposed to in the 80s. More tv, more music, more movies. Peer pressure invading my mind, I learned things I would have never seen or heard about in my home or from my family.

For the most part, I was a very faithful and obedient child and teenager. My parents and church family taught and supported me well. My friends were good and decent and wholesome people. I was a good student, graduating 2nd in my high school class, and I was accepted to BYU. I went to mutual. I went to early morning seminary. I earned my YW in Excellence Award. I kept going to church when my parents went inactive for a time.

It’s so weird to look back at the ‘80s and ‘90s and say these were simpler times, but the 2000s brought the seriousness of adulthood to my life. I didn’t know what I wanted to do in college, much less as a career, so I took a detour and moved with friends to New York City. I spent almost 7 years there. The entire world in all its aspects unfolded itself to me in that one place. The accumulation and amplification of every temptation I had been exposed to growing up and more was there. Furthermore in the 2000s was the full unleashing of the internet and the myriad potential ways it could derail someone like me from living the gospel.

There were bad influences in NYC, but I remember most fondly all the goodness it offered, too. I made some of my best friends there. The church is strong there. Members there struggle and fight, probably a lot like members everywhere do. There were times I wavered in my faith, but I always knew the gospel was true, and that my life had purpose. After trying to attend a singles ward for several months, I decided my time would be better served and I would feel more comfortable in a family ward. I served in the nursery. I served as a ward missionary. I also taught early morning seminary for two years. When I was there, serving others kept me on the right path.

And so we come to this decade. We could probably discuss and make a list of ways the world has changed in the last 7-10 years. Elder Clayton, in his talk, tells a story of speaking to a young bishop that spent several hours a week counseling members of his ward. He said, “The problems that members of his ward faced … were those faced by Church members everywhere—issues such as how to establish a happy marriage; struggles with balancing work, family, and Church duties; challenges with the Word of Wisdom, with employment, or with pornography; or trouble gaining peace about a Church policy or historical question they didn’t understand.”

This bishop often advised his ward members to “get back to simple practices of faith, such as studying the Book of Mormon, paying tithing, and serving in the Church with devotion.” He said, “Frequently, however, the members’ response to their bishop was one of skepticism: They said, ‘I don’t agree with you, Bishop. We all know those are good things to do. We talk about those things all the time in the Church. But I’m not sure you’re understanding me. What does doing any of those things have to do with the issues I’m facing?’”

That could have been me a number of times in the last 10 years talking to that bishop. I have questions and issues that I wrestle with. Most of the time they are about people I love and their relationship with the Church. My spirituality ebbs and flows, and when I am in the lower moments, it can be hard to know or remember what to do.

Elder Clayton says faith and obedience go hand in hand, that obedience is an act of faith. He says that those who obey in “seemingly little ways are blessed with faith and strength that go far beyond the actual acts of obedience themselves and, in fact, may seem totally unrelated to them. It may seem hard to draw a connection between the basic daily acts of obedience and solutions to the big, complicated problems we face. But they are related.”

Obedience is an act of faith in Christ, and the more we obey, the more we are blessed with faith. The more faith we have, the stronger we are to obey, even in the face of today’s barrage of mega-challenges. Christ can do that for us. He can fortify us. He can save us.

Reflecting upon the story of the wedding of Cana, perhaps the answer to the question, How will faith and obedience fortify me in today’s world? is another question: How do I come to know Christ the way Mary does? To answer that question, I wish I had something deeper than the little things, the “primary answers,” but it’s the little things that are truly profound and lead to growth. They set the foundation for progressing toward keeping higher covenants. Being diligent in my obedience as a child prepared me for many difficulties I faced growing up. Being faithful and obedient now motivate me to keep going to church, remind me to count my blessings, and reassure me the Lord knows my concerns and will provide the answers I need in his time.

“Whatsoever he saith, do it.” To apply that bishop’s counsel of studying the Book of Mormon, paying tithing, and serving in the Church with devotion is a lot like pouring water in those stone vessels, not really understanding how that will result in the best wine. That’s where I am right now. If I do these things, I don’t understand how that will resolve my personal struggles. But I do know that these acts of obedience are an exercise of faith in my Savior. These acts will enable me to know him better.

And I believe that the better I know Jesus Christ, the stronger my desire will be to obey his teachings. This is what I was taught as a child; and because we are uncertain and nervous about the world our daughter will grow up in, this is what Reilly and I will continue to teach our family. No matter our struggles, if we can establish little habits of faith, if we can fill the pots with water to the brim, the Lord will somehow touch our lives, perform a true miracle and fortify our souls, and bring out the best in us.

Mormonish

You should have seen me as a youth: reading my scriptures every day, going to seminary, being the stake scripture mastery champion, going to church when my parents were inactive. I was a fine little example of commitment to religion.

Of course, as life went on I wasn’t perfect, but I knew the church was always there in case I wanted to go back.

I’m not perfect. I don’t read my scriptures every day now. Church is a struggle to attend sometimes. At times I find myself rolling my eyes at talks or silently criticizing lessons, though it’s a nice surprise when I enjoy church because of an especially sensitive talk or balanced discussion.

I was very recently Primary president in two different wards, and I still struggled. I wasn’t perfect, but I worked hard at being the best Primary president I could be.

I don’t know. These feelings creep up, and I don’t know what to do.

As of now, we’re not super devout Mormons. We believe all the fundamental Christlike things. I love people, and I want to serve and help them. I want to be an awesome friend, mother, and wife. An awesome May.

It’s a combination of things, really: personal trials, policies, politics, raising our daughter to be able to make good decisions and be a kind person. Asking “What if?” all the time.

Yet we’re sticking around. Why, if there’s so much grief, so much struggle between the spirit and mind? Part of me needs to wait it out. Something’s going to change, and it possibly could be me, and it could be another bunch of things. Part of me needs to have faith for my loved ones.

I’ll push myself. But when it gets hard and I don’t feel like pushing anymore, I might pause until I feel like pushing again. Maybe one of these days the church I thought I believed in so much as a youth can be a church I can fully commit myself to again.

Calling

Last Monday I received a text from Reilly. He received a text addressed to me and asking if I could meet with the bishop Tuesday evening. I believe my response to Reilly’s text was, “Gross.” But I agreed to meet with the bishop, and Reilly also received an invitation to meet the bishop with me.

We spent Monday evening and most of Tuesday speculating. I had a strong feeling that I would receive a new calling, but I didn’t know which one. Young women? Something else? Ward slacker?

Our appointment approached, and we got ready and drove to the church. We walked into the bishop’s office and sat down. We chatted with the bishop for a little bit, and I expressed to him that I was a little nervous. He said I should never be nervous.

The bishop asked Reilly if he would support me in a calling. He said, “Yes.”

The bishop then turned to me, my ears tuned in to every single word, and I still was trying to guess the calling as he said, “We like to extend a call for you to serve as primary president.”

“Whoa!” was my first reaction.

Immediate tears were next.

The rest of the meeting was a blur. I remember telling the bishop that I have a lot to learn. He said that he prayed and felt strongly I was the right person for this calling.

I have been feeling anxious since Tuesday, but I know this will be good for me. I’m excited about working with the children as well. Friends have given me wonderful advice and encouragement.

I observed Primary today. The former president said goodbye to the children she loved and faithfully served. My counselors, secretary, and I were set apart.

It’s time to pray. A lot.

Jilting An Ally: How to String Along A Fully Qualified Job Candidate Only Not to Hire Him

Introduction

Corruption rises to the top.

It may disguise itself as righteousness or good intentions, or appeal to its own authority, and those at its mercy often have no choice but to comply.

But sometimes they turn away and never look back.

Corruption will meet justice: That’s what many of us hope for.

I have a story that is not mine. But I know the person involved, a victim of a system that hides behind piousness while ignoring basic rules of fairness and decency. And legality. The story appeals to a lot of people, and maybe writing is my way to stop being so mad about it.

This person gave me permission to tell his story. I know him, his family, his ambitions and his disposition. I express my gratitude to him for letting me recount his experience. While this person will verify the story, I am writing the story from the recollection of a secondhand account.

It is my hope that readers could apply his situation to their lives; perhaps many do not have to experience it vicariously and have indeed also become victims of this system. Names and other details have been changed. I’ve abridged the story somewhat.

Background

Some time ago Gary Avery was an alumnus working part-time during a winter semester at his alma mater in a department unrelated to where he earned his bachelor’s degree. The job often demanded of him to work many hours beyond his part-time obligations but still only paid him according to his contract. In addition to this job, he taught at another school and had other professional responsibilities that required him to travel.

The university was a private religious institution with a strict Honor Code; the university investigated Gary Avery’s life and discovered that he wasn’t attending church. As a result, the school put him on probation. He finished the rest of the semester and decided to quit and pursue other opportunities that meshed better with what he wanted in a career.

A couple weeks after the semester ended, Gary Avery planned a trip to another country to study with the native artists where a lot of his research originated. This gave him a rare opportunity to improve his skills at the feet of masters whose ancestors invented the art form. He would receive a deeper understanding of history, theory, and technique. He spent about five weeks in this country, from the beginning of May to the middle of June.

The Rest So Far

When Gary Avery returned to the United States, he considered what to do for work. He would continue teaching in various capacities and freelancing. As the new academic year approached, an opportunity arose for Gary to teach in a more substantial, full-time position at his alma mater. In the department where he received his bachelor’s degree. The faculty worked closely with him during his undergrad, and he kept in touch with them while he pursued a graduate degree elsewhere, so they knew of his talent and dedication to education. The faculty essentially created a niche position just for him, for which he was solely and uniquely qualified. In the years leading up to this point in his life, he established the best possible network for obtaining what seemed an ideal job.

Keeping Tabs

Gary Avery had an interview with a hiring manager who dug into his file and saw that he was previously on probation. This manager, Colburn Patterson, asked what Gary did after he quit. He explained that he went abroad to study. Patterson then said that there was no way to keep tabs on Gary while he was out of the country. There was no way to monitor his nonexistent reckless behavior that was discordant with the Honor Code. There was no way Patterson would take Gary’s word that his behavior complied with the Honor Code. Patterson seemed to rather assume the worst.

So, Gary Avery was still on probation. Patterson said that if he could get an endorsement from his church leader affirming that he was complying with university policy, he would be freed from probation and get hired. This meant that he wouldn’t be starting fall semester, but Patterson would revisit his case in time to start for winter semester.

Making Good

Gary Avery went to his local church leader and explained his situation. Pastor Parker understood and told Gary he would work with him to the best possible outcome.

Throughout that fall semester Gary attended church and checked in with Pastor Parker, who determined that Gary was complying with the Honor Code and gave him an ecclesiastical endorsement.

Gary Avery was now qualified for the position. He met the professional requirements, and his spiritual leader endorsed him. He was ready to be hired.

Stacking the Deck

In the last half of the semester Gary Avery learned the school added a separate position to the customized one he was applying for. This new position included more responsibilities and was opened to a larger hiring pool. Undoubtedly, Gary was qualified for this position as well, but was he supposed to apply? How would this complicate the hiring process in his situation? Gary wasn’t too worried, because he was still applying for the original position and knew most of the faculty supported him.

Tracking Emails

In November, Gary Avery gave Colburn Patterson an update via email. Patterson replied that he did not know the likelihood of reemployment at this point, that Gary was still close to an “unsuccessful probationary period,” and further decisions will be determined by feedback from Gary’s ecclesiastical leader. There were other clues in their email thread that implied that Patterson had not communicated with Pastor Parker. However, Patterson still encouraged him to apply.

Gary Avery was confused about his supposed “unsuccessful” probation. At the end of December he touched base with Pastor Parker, who confirmed by email that Colburn Patterson had not contacted him about the endorsement. Nothing else was keeping him from getting hired. The pastor further stated that he personally wouldn’t want to work anywhere that didn’t want to hire him, but that he’d love to talk to Patterson just to get a sense of his thinking, and so that Gary’s frustration with Patterson “doesn’t bug [Gary] the rest of [his] life.”

Reacting

The associate dean of the department, Jeremiah Strang, was particularly upset by the school’s decision not to hire Gary Avery. He knew that the department and students would benefit greatly from Gary’s contributions; he knew that Gary was a good man with integrity, that although he had not attended church regularly in the past, he never truly rebelled against his religion: Gary never smoked, drank, or partied. He worked hard and built an impressive resume all before the age of 25. The department was powerless; whom could they hire now?

December ended, and the new semester began. Jerry Hough was another one of the faculty expecting Gary to start teaching the first day of class. His personality and temper overshadowed his slight frame, and people around him felt his presence wherever he went. When Hough realized that Gary wasn’t teaching, much less hired as expected, he demanded a meeting with members of the hiring board.

Strang and Hough met with Colburn Patterson and his superior, Lenk Douzebach. They discussed Gary Avery’s qualifications and process for receiving an ecclesiastical endorsement. Sometime during this meeting Douzebach went off the record and said that it’s his personal policy not to hire someone who isn’t a return missionary and isn’t married. Regardless of meeting the terms of his probation, Gary wasn’t going to be hired because he was single and didn’t serve a mission for the church.

Conclusion

On paper, Gary is qualified for this job. He has the entire department as well as his pastor to vouch for his character and desire to improve spiritually. It was his pastor’s decision—not the hiring board’s—to decide whether he met the worthiness requirements to work at the university. The hiring board’s job is to hire based on qualifications, not to judge based on their perception of spirituality.

Additionally, being a return missionary and married does not automatically make someone a good person, and being single and not serving a mission does not automatically make someone a bad person. Being single and not serving a mission should not diminish one’s chances of being hired. At all. Isn’t using marital status as a basis for making hiring decisions against the law, regardless of the privateness of the institution?

Other faculty are not members of the church sponsoring this school, but they have committed to live according to the Honor Code. Combined with the rest of the faculty, should we assume that all faculty are good, upstanding people? What about a religion “professor” who makes offhanded, misogynistic remarks during lectures all semester? An instructor. Of RELIGION. There are probably other examples.

Some professors with prestigious fellowships have come to work there, being neither married nor a return missionary, because they also are not members of the church. It’s hard not to assume they were hired to bring prominence to the school. Ideally, these professors would also follow the Honor Code. Realistically, not all of them do. Not even all professors who claim to subscribe to the religion do.

Never mind the process involved in recruiting for the athletics programs of this religious institution. Never mind the school dismissing students who change their religion after having crises in faith. Those are discussions for another day.

The university made a big mistake. They may never be penalized for illegal onboarding procedures, but not hiring Gary Avery—fully qualified and supported by department faculty—just because he’s not married and didn’t serve a mission sends the wrong message to that department and the individual.

The university will hire someone less qualified, but married and a return missionary. Yet the department will suffer, because their new hire can’t fulfill all the responsibilities and perhaps disrupt their organizational culture: They were expecting Gary Avery, they got someone else instead. That someone else will have an unfortunate struggle to meet the Gary Avery standards the department expected.

If Gary Avery still can’t be hired making a sincere effort to return to good standing in the church, how does that encourage him to keep going to church? Church attendance is his choice, but the university clearly conveyed that they don’t really care.

The university won the power struggle but ultimately lost a phenomenal potential employee: Gary Avery has decided to stop pursuing employment at this institution for now. He is free to seek other opportunities that may turn out to be much bigger than his alma mater could ever offer. That may be the best justice anyone can hope for.

Speaking of Prayer

Or, By the Grace of the Check Engine Light

My own skepticism has caused me to hesitate sharing this experience, because when I hear people share their own experiences and draw what I consider to be specious conclusions, I fear that’s how people will perceive the lessons I learned one morning a few weeks ago. When returned missionaries come home and declare that they were good missionaries and kept the commandments, therefore they got engaged within a month of returning home; or when people assume everyone in an entire region of the world was wicked therefore a catastrophe leveled the land, I tend to wince a little. So what I’m about to share may prove a little hypocritical, but the Lord’s judgment is just and for me and me alone; nevertheless I’m willing to face judgment from my spiritual peers and superiors in mortality. Or just not care. I’m fine either way now.

It was a Tuesday night, and I decided to go to bed early, because I had to take my mom to the airport at 3:30 Wednesday morning. She came up to attend my graduation ceremony for library school and had stayed with us for a full six days. The car I usually drive had a flat tire, so we planned to take the other car instead. I headed to bed around 9:00 or 9:30, which would have given me a solid 6 to 6.5 hours of sleep.

In order to sleep, one has to be sleepy, which I wasn’t. I can’t even recall that I was all that tired. I lay in bed and tossed and turned. Every half hour or so I looked at the clock, which gratefully seemed to be creeping along. I played a few rounds of sudoku on the Kindle and read a few pages of The Screwtape Letters. I tried lying on my stomach and then on my back and then on my side. I turned the pillow when it got too warm. I attempted breathing exercises to help relaxation.

Nothing worked. My mind was too active thinking about driving to the airport and potty training Z and work and everything else I could possibly think about. Reilly said if I was too worried about being too tired on the road, we’d get the whole family in the car. But I didn’t want him to be too tired for work. I told myself I’d be fine.

Time went from crawling to running, and around 3:00am I finally dozed off to half-consciousness. My alarm went off at 3:20am. Reilly got up to scrape any ice from the car windows, which there was none. I threw on some jeans and a sweater, then my winter coat. I grabbed a Mountain Dew from the refrigerator. Mom and I climbed into the car.

The ride to the airport was uneventful. I pulled into the dropoff area and helped Mom with her suitcase. We hugged each other. I cried a little. After watching Mom walk into the terminal, I got back into the car.

Just as I had pulled away from the dropoff area and driven onto the road exiting the airport, the check engine light came on. A bright yellow-orange light shaped like a drawing of an engine.

I still had 40 miles to get home.

Sometimes the engine sounded fine. I don’t know anything about cars, but sporadically the engine sounded as if it was losing traction, like it lost its grip on a thingy but another thingy would keep spinning for 5 to 10 seconds until it gained traction again. This happened every few miles the whole way home.

Whenever this happened my stomach sank, and I would experiment with pressure on the gas pedal and vary speeds to see if that affected the traction thingy. The traction thingy happened no matter what I did. Yet I decided to drive slower than the speed limit most of the way; I don’t know why.

The whole time I watched the speedometer and the temperature gauges, and the check engine light stayed on. The whole time, my mind was alert, and I came up with an emergency plan in case the car stopped on the freeway.

The whole time my mind was spinning, with and without traction, much like the engine seemed to be. The whole time I was driving I was praying aloud. I turned off the radio so I could hear the engine, but also so that the Lord knew I was serious about needing to get home. There are worse situations than being stuck on the side of the freeway at 4:30am, but I wanted to get home. I made this desire known.

I talked about my family and my attitude and my current level of spirituality. I apologized for not praying as much and reading my scriptures as much. I started making those deals that people make about being a better person if they survive a certain situation. I expressed gratitude for blessings, for being able to drop off my mom safely at the airport.

The distance home shrank and I steered onto our exit. I asked and hoped that the car would make it to our apartment on the slower city roads and at stop lights. Soon I was just a few miles away. I pulled up to our apartment and parked the car. When I turned off the ignition, the check engine light also shut off. I sighed with relief.

Reilly was up when I walked in. I told him about the car. It wouldn’t be until the following Sunday when Reilly’s dad would look at it to see if anything was wrong.

But it occurred to me: What if nothing was wrong with the car after getting home? What if this was just a thing that happened to keep me awake on the way home from the airport? What if the check engine light turning on was all in my head? If nothing was wrong with the car, it might look like I was just telling stories, for what, attention?

Thankfully, something was wrong with the coil thingy in the engine. Yes, it’s a bummer, but I’m also glad I wasn’t imagining it.

Reilly said that if I had been worried about staying awake on the drive from the airport, the car issue and the check engine light had definitely kept me from falling asleep at the wheel. A blessing in a slightly conspicuous disguise.

I’m grateful the situation compelled me to utter a 35-minute prayer on the freeway in the wee morning hours. The act of praying aloud also had kept me awake.

But what if I had gotten a good night’s sleep? Chances are that the car would have still acted up, and my mind would have still been put on high alert, and I still would have made it home safely. I’d still have something to be grateful for.

Instead of a prayer of desperation, I offer a prayer of gratitude for the check engine light, for the reminders of temporariness of this life, the awareness of struggles in this world, the assurance that–even when we feel we’re losing traction, and I’m just now realizing the analogy of this situation and forthcoming bad pun–exaltation will come to this mortal coil.

j,,,,mzz . Social Navigation

[The first part of the title is Z’s. I stepped away from the computer for two seconds, and she decided she wants to blog.]

The Saturday before Halloween our ward had a chili cook-off and Halloween carnival. Earlier in the day I had put Z’s costume on her to see if it fit and so she could get used to it. I’d taken it off so that she wouldn’t get too hot. When it was time to get ready for the party, I struggled with Z to put the costume on, but she finally relented.

She was cranky. She didn’t have much of a nap that day, and when I tried to paint her with a lion face–super simple, a short black upside-down triangle covering the bottom of her nose, a white snout, and black whiskers–she wouldn’t stay still. She looked like she’d eaten powdered donuts mixed with soot.

It’s two blocks to our church building, but we decided to go on a little drive to to fit in a little nap for Z. We drove around for about 10 minutes before pulling up to the church. Z was sleeping. We found a place to sit. Reilly held our dozing child while I stood in line to get us food.

rawr.

We made it through most of our meal before Z woke up. The moment she opened her eyes, she began to cry. She saw all the people and heard all the noise. I would have been overwhelmed as well.

We tried feeding Z, but she was too upset. Reilly took her into the foyer for a little while, and when they came back, Z was no longer wearing her costume. But she was still crying.

Time to go. The instant we stepped outside into the cool air and fuzzy ambiance of dusk, our little toddler calmed down. We went home and she played until bedtime.

The following Friday I decided to get our money’s worth out of Z’s costume, so I put it on her, and we went to the library. She likes climbing the stairs to the juvenile section.

On the prowl...
On the prowl…

Z especially loves to play in the courtyard between wings. It was chilly outside, but the costume seemed to keep her warm enough.

Bounding down the hill...
Bounding down the hill…

We then went to Provo Towne Centre Mall, where she could play in the kids’ area and walk around. She fell asleep in the car on the way, but I brought her to the kids’ area and lay her down to let her sleep. When she woke up, she didn’t move but watched the other kids playing for a while.

Just watching...
Just watching…

After walking and playing, we went back home to walk and play some more.

Lion slide
Lion slide

We checked the mail, and Z likes to see if we received any packages.

Where's our mail?
Where’s our mail?

Then came Halloween day. We were up until 1am the night before watching scary movies with Reilly’s brothers (Z was in bed), so Reilly and I were quite tired. But we wanted to do something for Halloween. We decided to accept an invitation to a party. We all got in our costumes.

Off to see the Wizard...
Off to see the Wizard…

We thought Z might have another tantrum, but she was actually very good. We were early to the party, so we left to get eat some pie and came back. But the person who invited us wasn’t there yet, and it was getting late (8:30!), so we just came back home and put Z to bed. I invited friends over, and we watched another scary movie and stayed up past midnight.

The following Tuesday we went to a wedding reception in Riverton. We stood in the reception line no longer than two minutes. When we got to talk to the beautiful bride and groom, Z began to cry. We wrapped up our conversation and found a seat and I got up to get some refreshments–s’mores. Perfect for a crisp evening. I thought Z might like the chocolate and graham crackers. Z ate quietly for a few minutes, but maybe it was the crowd of strangers and unfamiliar chatter and not being able to run around like she usually does before she started crying.

Again, once we stepped outside, she stopped crying.

She did really well her first time in nursery, but she’s had a rougher time the past few Sundays.

Then last night Reilly and I brought Z to a ward missionary meeting in someone’s home. She did fine playing on their carpeted stairs. She jabbered and checked in on us every few minutes. Someone else’s toddler was there. Once when he stood in Z’s way she looked at him and did something that looked like frustrated jazz hands before walking around him.

From these experiences I’ve observed:

  • Z likes small groups, especially with family. (Just like Reilly and I.)
  • Z likes being able to run around and explore.
  • Z doesn’t like a lot of noise or strangers.
  • Z isn’t sure what to think about other toddlers.

From these observations, maybe:

  • Z could adjust to being around people her age more often. (Just like Reilly and I.)
  • Reilly and I could have more creative solutions whenever Z doesn’t feel like being very social with us.

Times like these I wish I knew what I was doing, but we’re okay. We’re learning. And she’s only 19 months old, so there’s that.

Sunday Firsts

Yesterday was Zinger’s first day in nursery at church. Since our ward meets at 11:00 AM, our strategy was to get Z to sit long enough for us to take the sacrament, take her for a ride so that she can nap for about half an hour, then bring her back in time for nursery.

We were able to get her to sit for the first 25 minutes of sacrament meeting. She wanted to walk around and play in the chapel, but we held her close and whispered to her how important it was to sit still. As soon as the bishop dismissed the priesthood after administering the sacrament, Reilly took Z on a ride while I listened to people bear their testimonies. I may have also briefly scrolled through Facebook and read comments in a Salt Lake Tribune article about black women in the Church.

When sacrament meeting ended, I walked out of the chapel and found my family. I asked Reilly if Z got a nap. He said no. I was nervous. We walked our daughter to the nursery room. We let her walk around, and there were a couple of times she tried leaving the room. Once the tables were set up the nursery workers put out some books and puzzles, and Z began to play. She also saw some blocks and played with those as well.

The nursery leaders asked for her name. We told them Z was tired and wasn’t really used to other children yet. They assured us they were good at getting the babies to calm down in case of tantrums.

Before we left her, we decided to change her diaper so that the next two hours for her wouldn’t be interrupted. So I took her to the mothers’ room and changed her. Reilly and I took her back to the nursery room. We opened the door, we said goodbye, and there were no tears.

Suddenly, we were free.

Reilly and I headed to Gospel Principles class. We sat down in the middle of a story the teacher was telling. One of the first things we heard the teacher say was, “And [this guy], he was homosexual.” Then she wrote on the board: [guy’s name] – homosexul [sic]. Then she continued telling the story, which offered a few more highlights:

  • “Many of their kids were homosexual. I don’t know if it’s hereditary or what.”
  • “And [another guy] was 70 years old, and he’s still homosexual.”

The teacher kept making eye contact with me, so I didn’t want to give even the remotest sideways glance to Reilly to express how weird I thought the lesson was.

But then came a story that had some context:

  • “My son came to me and said, ‘I have to thank you for something, but I’m not sure it was even you. My brothers were always beating me up. I was always on the bottom of a pile. But there were times I felt someone lifting me up above the pile, and I could see my brothers below me, and the next thing I knew, I was at the table and there were milk and cookies. I want to thank you for that.’”

My impression was that the lesson was about families, but we missed the first ten minutes, and with 20 minutes left in the class, someone came in and asked us to be substitute Primary teachers. So we walked out of our Sunday School class, being somewhat amused but not knowing for sure what we were being taught.

We found out that we were teaching the CTR4 class, which consisted of three boys. They were rowdy, as boys between 4 and 6 years of age typically are. Between Reilly and me, our combined powers of persuasion made classroom management pretty easy. (If other parents saw us, they probably would have disagreed.) We had a short lesson about missionaries. We colored pictures of children holding Books of Mormon. One boy looked at the other boys’ coloring jobs and said, “Dude, that’s scribbling.” We folded these pictures into paper airplanes, and Reilly refereed the races. We also played football because that’s always an appropriate Sunday indoor activity. I interrupted their fun to remind them if their moms ask what they learned in class to say they learned about being missionaries. Wishful thinking, I know; I should expect them to tell their moms that they played with paper airplanes and threw a football in class. The final activity was drawing on the chalkboard, which surprised me with how long they kept quiet. We ended the class with a prayer. While one boy was giving the closing prayer, another boy was talking. To whom, to what, I don’t know.

I tidied up the classroom while Reilly picked up Z from nursery. I asked how she did, and Reilly said that when he opened the door, one of her shoes was off. One of the nursery leaders was blowing bubbles, and Z was trying to catch them. I imagined her reaching above her head, trying to grab those clear, drifting orbs. I smiled.

It seems Z had a great first day at nursery, with nary a tear. She also didn’t nap the entire day. (Reilly and I each took two naps.) And she cried for about a minute when she had to go to bed.

It was an eventful day for all of us. If today’s gospel principles lesson was about families, then maybe we could take our day and talk about how our respective experiences have brought us closer together, either because they were fun (stacking blocks and catching bubbles) or slightly chaotic (teaching small boys) or didn’t make very much sense (listening to bizarre stories in Sunday School). I don’t think there will ever be another Sunday like this one. I really liked it.

One Zinger Year

Evil?

Dear Zinger,

Look at you.

On Mondays I volunteer at a children’s hospital library up in Salt Lake City. Before going down the hallway that leads to the library, I pass through the cafeteria. Sometimes I see parents with their children. They have food in front of them, seemingly going through the motions of eating just to pass the time. As I make my way toward the information desk, I often see parents dreading results in the lab waiting room. Sometimes in the next room there are children and their parents in the sibling playroom. There’s a life-sized cardboard cutout of Elsa, looking glittery and friendly. The hospital is bright with tall, green plants, left-spectrum colors in the furniture and carpet and fun, educational murals on the walls. This effort to cheer patients and their loved ones is commendable, because everything possible needs to be done to raise spirits in a place that can generate so much fear and heartache. The parents especially look tired, probably from waiting or lack of sleep or anxiety. They look worried. The parents try to get their children to eat or play to make waiting bearable, to lessen time’s weight, to relieve the pain of slow ticks of a clock. I come home and think of the parents looking at their children. Exhaustion, defeat, hope. Love.

I look at you.

I don't know what you're talking about

RUNNNNNN!

bond

A couple of months ago, a friend of mine posted a video of her daughter walking with crutches. This amazing girl was born with limb differences, and I talked to you about the video after showing it to you. As Lamp (her online name) took her first few steps, she squealed and laughed, and I saw your face light up and smile. Tears filled my eyes. I said that’s your friend Lamp. I said do you remember her. I said she lives in Ohio now, but we went to the park with her and her family when you were two months old. I said her arms and legs are different sizes, so her dad and doctors built things to help her move around. I said let’s watch the video again. So we watched it again, and you smiled again. I cried again. We watched the little 11-second video at least three more times, and you smiled each time. Each. Time. I said you can see she’s having fun learning how to walk. I said you have a good heart to be so happy for your friend.

I said please don’t lose that.

Sweep

You like to play a game where you close our bedroom door and I’m kneeling in the hallway. I put my knee just across the threshold so that the door doesn’t close all the way. I see your fingers wrap around the edge of the door just before you swing it open. When it swings about halfway I see your face, and I say boo. Then our eyes connect and we laugh. You love the game with Dadda where he says I’m gonna get you! and you smile and run away from him, but not so fast that he can’t catch you. And sometimes you actually run toward him. Then he picks you up and laughs while you smile that smile saved especially for Dadda. It warms my heart.

You want us to get you.

Peas & Carrots

curly

bear

toes

You are one year old. And you can probably tell that I still don’t know what I’m doing. But I’m doing the best I can, like I said I would. I read books and articles and watch other parents with their children and ask for advice. For the most part people are very helpful. They share experiences and make suggestions and gently reassure me of my role as your mother. As long as you’re clean, eating, and sleeping, you’re doing okay. You even play hard every day, so Dadda and I are doing something right. And I’m doing okay, even when I shower only every 2-4 days and skip some meals (but eat snacks) and dream about eight hours of sleep during a five-hour slumber. I know I’m supposed to take care of myself, but I can’t say that I’m neglecting myself because I have so much fun spending time with you and Dadda. We eat dinner together at the kitchen table; we share hugs and kisses and snuggles and laughs. We dance and spin and read. We pray. We say amen. While Dadda holds you I stroke your face three times and kiss your cheek. I say sleep good, little girl. I say I’ll see you in the morning. I say I love you. And Dadda lays you in your crib.

hair

wavy

cloak

cozy

You are one year old. You are so smiley and gentle and curious. You point at people you know, and you look at people who ought to know you until they smile at you. I have never known so much anxiety, uncertainty, wonder, and joy than I have in the past year. I never knew I had the ability to love so far beyond myself. I will gladly keep giving up showers and meals and sleep for more years like the first one you gave us. Those will years will be different, because you’ll be learning and growing and progressing exponentially; you’ll be forming opinions and making discoveries and forging relationships, but those differences are what makes those upcoming years the same. Does that make sense? We’ll be teaching each other. We’ll continue to strive to understand each other. We’ll keep playing and reading. Hopefully there will still be dancing and spinning.

We will still be praying.

Happy birthday, little one. We love you. Watch this slide show to see just how much you’ve blessed our lives this past year. (Some songs are cliché and cheesy, but I couldn’t help it.)

Love, Mom

 

 

Eleven Months

1101

Dear Zinger,

Eleven months. E-leven. E-leaven. Like electronically baking bread. This is blowing my mind. I can’t even wrap my head around next month, when you’ll be a whole year old, so I’ll try my best to focus on this letter.

That sassy expression in the above photo makes Dadda and me laugh a lot. Your personality shines in everything you do. You know how to tease: you hold things out and offer them to us, then you pull them away and don’t let us have them. It’s a fun little game, but where did you learn how to do that? Is that something all babies know?

1102

1103

You have a favorite kitchen cabinet. You haven’t gotten inside it as much lately, but you do open it a lot and put many of your things in there, from shoes to books to toys. It seems you’re slowly taking over the apartment. You’ve recently learned how to open the broiler part of the oven, and just two days ago I found two of your toys in there. Does this mean that you don’t like those toys and want to broil them, or is that your way of claiming the oven as your property?

1105

1104

You also like to wait by the bathroom door whenever someone is in there. Sometimes you knock on or scratch at the door while you wait. Once I got out of the shower and found Gina the Giraffe so thoughtfully placed at the door.

The bathroom has greatly interested you these past few weeks.  You enjoy standing by the tub and marveling at its structure. Or maybe you reminisce about bathtime and plan what you’ll do next time you take a bath. You really do like bathtime, with splashing and fun bath toys and trying to play with the faucet. You don’t like water being poured on your head, but you seem to enjoy the shampooing of your hair and scrubbing of your ridiculously soft skin. And when you’re done with a bath, we carry you in a towel to the futon in your room, and you run and jump around while I try to get your diaper on you.

1108

This past week your turned on the dishwasher. Like it was no big deal. Like it was a chore you’ve been doing since you were born. Of course the dishwasher wasn’t full, and I had to turn the dial all the way around to turn it off, but I was still impressed. Should I have been? I mean, I didn’t shower you with praise, and when it was actually time to run the dishwasher, I called you over and pointed to the dial and you looked at it and did nothing. Like it wasn’t your turn to do that chore. And you looked at me as if to say to me that I should know how to operate the dishwasher so why am I asking you, a mere baby for help. You watched me turn on the dishwasher and gave me an approving look. I was so proud of myself.

1106

You are learning how glorious sleep is and are steadily sleeping anywhere from eight to ten hours every night. Of course falling asleep is a different story. You still drift off peacefully in Dadda’s arms as he rocks you, but when he lays you in the crib you wake, realize he’s leaving you alone in a dark room, and cry. But then you understand that on the other side of waking is a brand new day of eating, reading, and play. And you finally fall asleep.

1107

The other day I noticed you standing and spinning in one place. This morning you’re spinning a lot. It might that your head is full of snot and every time you sneeze it’s like Spiderman spraying a sticky, weblike substance, except it’s from your nose and not your wrists. Or it could be because Dadda and I are on our computers. He’s preparing a Sunday School lesson, and I’m writing about you. It’s a few seconds later, and Dadda’s not on his computer anymore, and now you’re playing contentedly by yourself. Interesting how that works.

1109

Today, we have church from 1-4pm. Staying for the entire three hours has been very challenging for you, but you do a decent job. You sit through most of the first hour, then I let you walk around and give you a snack for the second hour, and sometimes if I’m feeling especially daring, I’ll take you in to Sunday School for the last 10 minutes. Then Dadda has you for the third hour, during which you two usually go for a drive and you get a much-needed nap.

Church is so important, little one. Even though we don’t spend a lot of time in our classes, it’s important that we go and start forming good habits. Fellowshipping isn’t a problem for you. You approach different people and reach out (literally, and point to them), and either give them a sincere, caring look or a great big smile.

About five weeks ago, Lola was called to be the Relief Society President of her ward. Observe the progression of her texts to me.

January 29:

Hi May, Poppi got me this new phone and I’m learning to text. I also have been called to be a relief society president and I’m scared out of my mind so remember me in your prayer. I love you.

February 1:

Hello May, I was sustained and set apart today. I bore my testimony on how Heavenly Father placed people on our path as an answer to prayers. In this I testify that it is true. A testament that our Heavenly Father loves us and will always be there to help us. I have been thinking of you and your little family and how blessed I am. I love you and thank you for being you.

February 17:

Hi May, just thought of you and how Heavenly Father keeps you close to him. He truly loves you with all the tender heart of a father. So very grateful for that knowledge. Now you are a mommy and you will have a glimpse of that kind of love. I guess what I am saying is … I am so happy to see you have happiness and fulfillment. I love you very much. Mom

In each text increased confidence shows in the words of each message, which also indicates to me increasing faith. She’s a very loving and compassionate woman who supports and encourages everyone around her unconditionally. I know this because I am her daughter, and there were times when I made her very mad or disappointed, but she still hugged me and reminded me of my potential. Right now, she lives in a ward with a lot of aging members and a lot of need, and if anything, my stubbornness helped her to develop patience and longsuffering. She’ll be amazing at her calling. You are very blessed to have such a spiritually strong Lola.

She’s right about being a mama. The glimpse I have of the kind of love Heavenly Father has for us is still beyond what my mind can grasp. My heart feels like it could explode all the time. I’m so very lucky to have your endless affection and generosity. May you never lose that.

So this morning, we’ll get ready for church. I will be at church, even though I’m sneezing and my nose itches constantly. I will also try not to fall asleep, and I will remember the example you’re setting for us. You’ll be at church, and I’m grateful it’s not a place you hate. We’ll tell everyone you’re eleven months old, and even though you’re tired, you’ll toddle around and explore the pews and hymnals. Even though you’re sniffly, you’ll smile. Our little sassy, carefree, and caring spirit, you raise us up.

Leaven.

1110

1111

1112

Love, Mom