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.

Last Night During Family Prayer

Every night before bedtime we gather together to pray as a family. It’s the end of Z’s bedtime routine, and it’s something we’ve done since she was a newborn. We do this to help her develop the habit of praying and instilling the value of praying together as a family.

As I’ve mentioned before, our daughter talks, but there’s not much that her father nor I understand yet. She laughs and squeals, and her jabbering has the certain cadence and melody of sentences.

Last night, we formed our little prayer circle. Reilly swaddled Z and held her while either he or I pray. It was my turn. I gave thanks for a few things, and I asked for a few blessings. And then I said, “We’re thankful for [Zinger].”

Immediately after I said this, our daughter said, “[Zinger].” It was unexpected, and it was in her cute little voice. Reilly and I laughed for a few seconds and sporadically throughout the prayer. Z also said some other things–this time we couldn’t understand them, and I can only imagine that she was praying right along with us. As I finished the prayer, her little voice came to mind again and I laughed through the “amen.”

After we set Z down in her crib, Reilly and I reenacted this scene a few more times, imitating our dear daughter. We laughed, again and again. What a precious moment.

This is probably my favorite time of the day.

Hindsight is 2015

Whenever I think about resolutions, there are the standard goals of exercising more and eating better, reading more books and eating out less, waking up earlier and writing more, but my greatest desires for improvement always lie in relationships.

Back in August, Reilly and I gave talks at church about the complementarity of gender roles. We had moved to a new area of town at the beginning of June, and this was a way for us to bear our testimonies and for our fellow ward members to get to know us better.

(This reminds me that we forgot to tell people we’d moved, so we’ve received a lot of Christmas cards this week with yellow stickers reminding us to tell people our new address. Sorry, guys. If you still need our address, let me know.)

When the day came to give our talks, we’d already been in the ward two months, and that gave me a chance to observe the members and relate my thoughts on gender roles to our ward, which consists of a large number of nontraditional family situations. We were specifically instructed only to use the scriptures and General Conference talks in our remarks. This makes sense because I’ve heard people say some truly outrageous things from the pulpit. I referred to this talk by Sister Chieko N. Okazaki and emphasized this quote:

Here are two quilts. Both are handmade, beautiful, and delightful to snuggle down in or wrap around a grandchild. Now look at this quilt. It’s a Hawaiian quilt with a strong, predictable pattern. We can look at half of the quilt and predict what the other half looks like. Sometimes our lives seem patterned, predictable in happy ways, in order.

Now look at this second quilt. This style is called a crazy quilt. Some pieces are the same color, but no two pieces are the same size. They’re odd shapes. They come together at odd angles. This is an unpredictable quilt. Sometimes our lives are unpredictable, unpatterned, not neat or well-ordered.

Well, there’s not one right way to be a quilt as long as the pieces are stitched together firmly. Both of these quilts will keep us warm and cozy. Both are beautiful and made with love. There’s not just one right way to be a Mormon woman, either, as long as we are firmly grounded in faith in the Savior, make and keep covenants, live the commandments, and work together in charity.

The ideas in this analogy include and not exclude, and I want to apply them not only to my family but to every interaction I will face.

I described ways in which Reilly and I are compatible. We love books, music, good television and movies. We’re both short. But is compatibility the same as complementarity? Being a complement takes effort, it requires work to observe and a desire to understand; deep and meaningful relationships go beyond what we have in common. Commonalities are a good place to start, though.

At the beginning of November, we attended a friend’s wedding reception. We didn’t stay long because Z was struggling with the big unfamiliar crowd. It was wonderful seeing the beautiful couple so happy, so fresh. I’d seen pictures that hinted at a fun courtship; I’d seen participation in a well-meaning but poorly executed web reality show. The culmination of their experiences together ended perfectly in a new beginning.

Reilly and I reminisce about our courtship and wedding all the time. This discussion has expanded to reflections on our continued dating and pregnancy and major milestones with Z. The past makes me hopeful for the future and grateful for the now. This process of thinking and remembering makes time seem not as relentless and life much more enjoyable.

The end of November presented me with attending a friend’s father’s funeral. He taught at the same middle school Reilly attended, though Reilly was not in any of his classes. I made it to the last hour of the funeral, where family members told stories that demonstrated the remarkable life of a good man. The chapel was packed, and it was obvious that he was loved and that he left the world a better place, at least for those who knew him.

As tears streamed down my face as I listened to these stories, I realized again just how beautiful and uplifting funerals can be. Mount Timpanogos backdropped the quiet and sprawling cemetery where I had a chance to see my friend and give her a big hug. She lives in New York, and it had been a few years since I’d seen her. While I’m grateful to connect to friends through social media, I’m especially grateful a huge part of the legacy a man left for this earth manifests itself in his phenomenal children.

There is still so much to learn in this life, and I only took a few experiences out of the past year to discuss. I look at my husband and daughter and wonder how my attitude and philosophy and convictions will influence them. I wonder about my friends and other family. I wonder how I will become better in areas where I am inadequate. I want to be more thoughtful, a better listener, to solve more problems. My imprint on this world needs to mean something.

The last song in Patty Griffin’s most recent album, Servant of Love, is called “Shine a Different Way.” Some of my favorite lines read:

In more ways than one
Shine a different way tomorrow

Tomorrow is a new year–2016: Olympics, election, other significant stuff. But more importantly, it’s tomorrow, a new beginning, a fresh start, a way to contemplate and become a better person. There’s no one right way.

Let’s be better together, bask in inevitable cognitive dissonance, lift each other up. Let’s solve and re-solve and resolve with civility and love and kindness and find all the different ways we can shine.

Happy New Year.

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