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.

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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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.

Letter to Baby Girl: Week 36

Dear Baby Girl,

It’s getting close.

We are well into 36 weeks, and everybody says that you can come at any time now. Everyone asks if I’m excited, and of course I say that I am, but I really wonder how excited you are. You’re still moving a lot, stretching, testing the limits of my ribs. You’ll soon test my pain threshold, but all I know is that whatever pain I experience will be worth having you in my arms to finally hold and coo at and dote over.

This world is such an interesting and beautiful place. Your father and I can’t wait to explore it with you and see it through your eyes. Oh, to see regular and mundane things as brand new, to take nothing for granted.

Speaking of taking nothing for granted, I’m grateful for your father’s shirts. I have been wearing his running shirts and t-shirts for the past few weeks now. They cover my tummy well, and if I also wear your father’s hoodies, I have an even better idea what it’s like to be in his skin. As I type this, I think about how hard that man works: he goes to work to teach young minds about writing and critical thinking. I can imagine his frustration as he faces certain limits and attitudes of adolescence. It can be draining. And then he’s pursuing a Master’s degree at BYU. First of all I have to recognize his sacrifice for going to BYU. He got his Bachelor’s degree from the University of Utah, the great rival of BYU. And now that he’s immersed in the student culture in Provo he has to tolerate certain policies and mentalities that are just plain weird and often questionable. I’m not just talking from a spiritual/secular standpoint. There are arcane ideas and draconian practices and sometimes immovable one-sidedness that people seem oblivious to. Maybe if you decide to go to BYU you’ll see what I mean. Or maybe things will have changed for the better by then. I mean, they’re starting to make strides, and I can’t discount whatever progress has occurred, but there’s so much more room for improvement. Always remember that you can improve yourself as you work on your spirituality and decency as a human being.

Wow, that was a long paragraph. I trust you’ll be able to follow it, because we intend to help you develop a good attention span. Baby Girl, be ready for all the stimuli. There is so much of it everywhere. I can be easily distracted, and sometimes talking with your father our conversations wander, where various subjects stretch like tendrils that dissipate into nothing. However, you should see us bear down to do homework. We can sit for hours at a time typing and taking moments to share ideas that are new and fun to us. We want to teach you to filter and focus. These behaviors will help you understand the importance of respect. It’s a very basic principle, one that I never fully understood until I was an adult. There’s a lot that goes into interacting with other human beings. Some of it seems plain common sense; some of it has to be learned over a long period of time. Your father and I will teach you the best we can, and then we hope you’ll decide what’s what and respect others as they respect you. And part of this respect is to remember not to judge people until you’ve considered their story. People have stuff going on in their lives that we don’t know about. Always be willing to wonder if they’ve had a bad day or haven’t eaten or feel sad, and see if there’s a way to help them, even if it’s to give them a hug and tell them it’s okay. Or to acknowledge their feelings and give them space.

I didn’t intend for so much of this letter to lecture you. We have another doctor’s appointment today, and I’ve been looking at birth plans and want to ask a bunch of questions to prepare for your real-time arrival. The weight of the reality of your being here strikes me more strongly each day, and as we preregistered at the hospital yesterday, your father asked some important questions that assured me of his desire to be prepared. We want to be good parents.

There’s undeniable proof in this world of good parents. The father of some good friends of mine passed away last week, and so many wonderful memories and expressions of love overflowed from everywhere for this man. He and I talked only a few times, and he helped one of his daughters move to New York City while I tagged along, but I’ll always know him as a very tender-hearted, generous man who loved his family and treated others with respect. He was a big man, but he had an even bigger heart. I want his example to teach us. And you.

Dear sweet child, your father will be home soon, and then we will go to the doctor who might tell us how big you are, how much you weigh, if your position has changed. We’ll listen to your heartbeat; that never gets old. These physical indicators of your readiness pale in comparison to our eagerness to have you here.

And are we ever eager.

We’ll see you soon.

Love, Mom

Letter to Baby Girl: 35 Weeks

imitating tummy

Dear Baby Girl,

Last week the doctor confirmed that your head is right down where it should be. You have swum your way down to the closest possible escape. Have you thought about this? Have you thought about the effort it will take to squeeze your body through a hole that seems impossibly unaccommodating?

You’re already teaching me: I’ve never turned down a reasonable challenge, but is this reasonable? You are five or so weeks away from defying reason. The doctor also said you’re growing fast, and I imagine your curled body inside my 4’10” body and my 25-pound weight gain as early indicators of your amazing defiance. I already consider myself pretty tough: Shots don’t really hurt. I’ve run a couple half-marathons, a few 10Ks, several 5Ks. I’ve done a sprint triathlon. I’ve wiped out on a mountain bike on a technical trail I had no right being on. But I have a feeling you’re going to show me what it’s like to be really tough.

This — your grand entrance — seems a completely different level of toughness. This is going to take some faith and determination that I probably haven’t tapped into. I mean, your dad has already decided he isn’t going to watch your birth from the doctor’s perspective, but he’ll hold my hand and encourage me. And that’s okay, because everyone has his threshold for gore and pain, even other people’s pain. And he’s already been incredibly supportive and committed to taking care of us. But do you know what I hope happens? I hope your dad cries. He’s only cried once in his life — not even at our wedding — and I don’t know if he’s missing tear ducts or if he’s dehydrated or whatever, but maybe your arrival will be a rare occasion that inspires tears. Maybe your toughness and cuteness and tiny body will unkink and restore the waterworks. Maybe your positioning is your way of telling us how ready you are to see your dad cry.

Yesterday after church, I took the following photo. Your dad actually handled the camera. Did you know that he and I like basketball? He knows all the teams and players and trades. I haven’t followed current teams, but I can recall players from the ’90s when I watched pro basketball all the time with my little brother.

Also, shooting hoops was one of our first dates. We went to the gym and played HORSE and practiced foul shots. You’ll soon see that your dad and I aren’t tall people, but your dad has a mad three-point shot. He can pretty much shoot from anywhere beyond the arc. When I’m warmed up, I have a solid short shot and can be pretty scrappy. Maybe you’ll share our affinity for basketball, but it’s okay if you don’t.

Anyway, you have grown to the point where my tummy looks like a basketball. I hope you’ll someday appreciate how much fun we’ve had with you these eight months.

passing the ball!

Little tough one, we look forward to having so much more fun and facing life’s challenges with you in the next few weeks.

Love, Mom