of Zelma

August 29, 2012

Shortly before we left Virginia our friends Andy and Loya had us over for Sunday dinner. As we talked about the upcoming changes we told them what little we knew of our new home. Andy remarked that he thought we’d be moving into his grandparent’s ward and to look for them. We consented, skeptically; LA is a pretty big place.

That first Sunday an older gentleman sought us out, eager to welcome us, and introduce himself and his wife as Andy’s grandparents. Within a week or two I was given the beloved grandmother as my assignment for regular visits.

It began as obligation, monthly visits to get to know people within the congregation is one of the many duties of an active Mormon and we take it seriously. I was pregnant with Red and not working and I enjoyed the company. It wasn’t long before I went out of true desire to spend more time with her than because of obligation. I even went so far as to tell the organizers of the visits that unless something catastrophic happened to please never change my assignment to visit her. (To further make my point I made that request multiple times.)

I loved her and her husband as my own grandparents. Surely I was closer to them than my own. I loved their stories, their perspective. They came to me when I was housebound with a newborn, to ensure we didn’t miss a visit. I cherished every moment I spent with them. I loved their stories of Latvia, of Brazil, and finally of coming to America. I loved their calm peaceful spirits and their unending optimism. Zelma was so stubbornly optimistic that I would have to check with Jacob to see how she was really doing at times when I worried for her health or comfort.

One day she had a stroke. She recovered miraculously but the Spirit told me I needed to prepare myself to say goodbye to her; she wasn’t a young woman and wouldn’t be around forever. It was a weird September for me: grieving in my heart for a woman I still saw in church on Sundays and in her home at least monthly. By the end of the year they decided that they needed to live closer to family and before their house was on the market it was sold and they had moved to Utah.

It wasn’t the goodbye I had expected, but it was hard for me. I no longer had our monthly visits and I missed her terribly. The preparation for the fall had helped but nothing ever takes away the pain of missing someone. I knew that I would miss her –miss them– for the rest of my life.

We’ve kept in touch, sending Christmas cards back and forth. They seem to know which years are the hardest and slip a twenty into the card for us. How do they know? How do they always know? We try to keep them updated on the progress of the boys they’ve known since infancy and beyond, the boys who know them and love them better than their own great grandparents.  It wasn’t the same as being in their home but there was great comfort in communication.  It helped the two and a half years since they left seem not so difficult.

Monday morning after I sent my children to school I discovered that my beloved Zelma had suffered a massive stroke, was unconscious, and was not expected to live long. I had been able to gulp back my tears when I dropped off Blue for his first day of school only hours before, but I was a fountain of tears as I grieved for my beloved Zelma. Yesterday, having never regained consciousness, she passed away, surrounded by family. She was 92 years old and a faithful friend to everyone who knew her. She had lived a beautiful, full life.

The church’s visiting teaching program is certainly inspired. What a wonderful way to get to know someone you wouldn’t otherwise. I am definitely a better woman because of my monthly visits with Zelma and her doting husband, even though it was I supposed to be helping them. I will always be grateful of the years I spent in her home, learning from her and gleaning from her vast knowledge. And I hope that someday, before I see her again, I can be more like her, because she was fantastic.  I shall treasure her memory forever.


Habit Forming

August 28, 2012

I have to remind myself as we are in the midst of thumb-sucking with Blue that this will not last forever. We’ve been through this before with Red (twice.) of course, in the middle of things it’s hard to keep perspective.

This time I’m not as discouraged as I have been before. It isn’t the end of the world that I’ve had to do this with both of my boys. They have the opportunity to learn at an early age two very important lessons.

1. Habits are powerful. Choose wisely which you adopt.
2. Although habits are hard to break it is not impossible. It takes hard work but you are stronger than your habit.

I’m quite certain that starting school is going to be a bit of a set-back in our progress, but we will not give up. Red is certainly a stronger boy for having overcome this and I know that Blue will be as well. It is a good reminder for all of us of the power of habits, and the power of will. Would that we all remembered it more often.


The One Constant

August 27, 2012

I had an extensive texting session with one of my favourite therapists, Dr. Drea, wherein I was able to gain some clarity into why I was such a mess last week.  It was a painful revelation, discovering that my power-through-because-mother’s-don’t-get-time-off attitude wasn’t exactly doing me any favours and I still had plenty of stuff to work out from the spring.  Just keep busy isn’t always the best policy.

The lease on our apartment expires in a month so we face another transition.  This is not unexpected and we hope it will be positive change, but change is change, and this change involves packing.  I’m pretty sure I still have PTSD from the last move and am reluctant to go back there again.  Besides, without Jennifer to watch my kids and Lisa and Angela to help me clean how will I get it all done?  I weep just thinking about doing this without them, but then I still weep just thinking about most major milestones without them, just as I still weep thinking about our beloved previous school.

Thinking about moving dredges up a lot of the pain from the move out here.  I have merged my frustration with those crazy landlords and my grief over Carla’s death and my loss of that awesome school and my dearest friends with the stress of moving.  As I comtemplate a new move I’ve got all that anger and pain and sorrow and loss coming up again.  I’m a bit of a mess, really.  No wonder the kids were, too, last week.  How could anyone stay sane with me like that?

The loneliness doesn’t help.  Who can talk me down from the ledge?  Who is going to give me inspiration and pep talks and perspective?  It took me so long to make the friends I cherish.  Going through this alone makes me miss them even more.

I don’t fear the next move, and I know we’ll make friends.  I know I’ll even make good friends.  The transition only magnifies the beauty of what I left behind.  Also, my home hasn’t been tidy since we came back from Canada and Red’s karate belt is hopelessly lost.  I can’t think straight in this environment.  If I can just get this under control I will feel a lot better.  Change is the most reliable thing there is, and I’m much more equipped to handle it if there’s something organized in my life.  Since more change is coming, I’d better put on my big girl pants and get going.


End of Summer

August 27, 2012

I have so many thoughts but they are a jumbled mess.

Red finished school at the end of May and didn’t go back until today. We had the longest summer vacation of any of our public school friends. Today he starts grade three and his little brother starts kindergarten. I have had such mixed feelings about school this fall. I enjoyed the summer and it’s free-formness and the simplicity of few commitments; I cherished seeing the boys rediscover their bond. I seriously considered homeschooling this fall. Whereas in California it was not even an option to consider, here in Texas I thought about it a lot. There probably wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t think about it. I won’t bore you with the growing list of reasons why I thought I should, needless to say that I had built some pretty compelling arguments in the case. Then last week everything changed and I knew I would send them to school. Was that just in exercise in faith, as in, would I be willing if I needed to? Was all that just to prepare me for some time in the future when it will be the right thing to do? I don’t know. All I know is that right now the boys need to be in school. I’m trying not to see it as a sign that I’m not mother enough.

I loved the days sprawling out ahead of us, with only meals and karate to break up our time. I even enjoyed having very few playdates with other children — I haven’t yet found friends for my children and me, compatible enough that playdates are pleasurable for everyone involved. My kids are still adjusting from the upheaval of the spring and weren’t ready to strut their stuff and impress new people. Without the comfort of friends-like-siblings we were happier re-weaving our own bonds than making new friends. It wasn’t until last week that any of us felt the cost of our self-imposed solitude. Finally the boys were ready for others but there were none who fit the bill. I realized that it had been five months since I’d heard the familiar refrains of good parenting that I used as the soundtrack to my own parenting. It wasn’t just emotional connection or the exchange of ideas that made me miss my friends, but the examples of the kind of parent to which I aspired. I had carefully chosen to surround myself with women whom I wished to emulate. I suddenly felt isolated among parents who yell and spank frequently, and who say of breastfeeding, “I know it’s better for the baby, but it’s just not for me.” That’s not to say that everyone I’ve met out here fits that bill, or even that those who do aren’t nice people whom I consider to be my friends, but I felt so alone. The only parenting refrain I could hear came from the barked instructions in karate (which does not constitute good parenting and isn’t even always good pedagogy if you ask me.) I was lost and I was drowning.

This weekend we went to end-of-summer party after end-of-summer party until we couldn’t eat another thing, didn’t care for another pool, and Red even had to empty his stomac in his sleep. Sunday we had brunch, a lovely church service on adapting to change, and a terrific “Hooray for School” meal planned by the boys (but executed by me.) Paul capped off the night with father’s blessings and we all went to bed calm, comforted, and excited for the school year. Even Red, despite his previous anxieties, was all smiles.

Off they went this morning. Both of them too excited to enter their classes to give their parents a proper goodbye. I’m a little lost, but I know that we are all in the right spot this morning.


Lonely

August 22, 2012

I’ve been having a hard time this week for reasons too numerous to list. White-knuckling through each day is not exactly how I imagined our last week of summer, and I’m trying really hard to keep it happy, fun, and good, but it is a struggle.

Tonight Paul said, “don’t feel so bad. You miss your friends. The boys miss their friends. It’ll be okay.”

And it hit me. Of course. Of course he’s right.

For the past eight years I’ve had my friends, the women I had vetted and chosen to help me co-raise my children. On my tough days they always knew what to say to work me out of the corner I’d found myself painted. They made me a better mother. They supported me and strengthened me. They taught me what I needed to know.

But they are 1414 miles away. My kids can’t play with theirs to burn off steam. And they aren’t here to talk me down from my ledge and help me make something beautiful out of the mess I’ve made.

We’ve been here for four and a half months and it suddenly hit me how lonely I am and how much I miss my friends.


Anniversary

August 17, 2012

August 6th was our 13th anniversary.  We were in separate countries at the time so we celebrated last weekend, when I returned to the States.  Paul and the boys picked up two dozen red roses while they were out and I was having a rehearsal.  That night we went to Cane Rosso for dinner.  Thirteen is a lucky number and life with this man just gets better and better and better.


Meekness

August 12, 2012

The scriptures, and surely many of us in this congregation, are full of stories of the meek being the most receptive to the gospel.  It was the poor Zoramites, cast out of the synagogues, who heard and believed the words of Alma and Amulek.  Unable to worship with their peers, unable to follow the status quo and profess their goodness upon the altar of pride and check the righteous box for the week, they were motivated to seek divinity.  When Alma and Amulek came preaching, they were ready, having prepared their hearts for the spiritual feast for which they had hungered so long.  Alma tells them, (vs. 12 of ch. 32) “I say unto you, it is well that ye are cast out of your synagogues, that ye may be humble, and that ye may learn wisdom; for it is necessary that ye should learn wisdom; for it is because that ye are cast out, that ye are despised of your brethren because of your exceeding poverty, that ye are brought to a lowliness of heart; for ye are necessarily brought to be humble.”

Before preaching to everyone that we all must take a vow of poverty in order to facilitate our spiritual progression, he continues in verse 15 by telling us “he that truly humbleth himself, and repenteth of his sins, and endureth to the end, the same shall be blessed – yea, much more blessed than they who are compelled to be humble because of their exceeding poverty.”  Thus the onus is upon us to take matters into our own hands.  The beauty of his statement is that it transcends economic status: it is not outside powers that force us to meekness, but a choice, or, rather, a lifelong series of choices, that one by one and cumulatively plant the seed of meekness within our hearts.

Alma 32 is best known for the oration on faith, and deservedly so.  However it is not until the middle of the chapter, in verse 18, that the word faith is even used.  The entire first half of the chapter is the preamble to faith.  In verse 16 he says, “blessed is he that believeth in the word of God, and is baptized without stubbornness of heart, yea, without being brought to know the word, or even compelled to know, before they will believe.”  Before faith is meekness, and without it there is no faith.

Elder Neal A Maxwell said, “Meekness permits us to be confident, as was Nephi, of that which we do know—even when we do not know the meaning of all other things. (See 1 Ne. 11:17.) Meekness constitutes a continuing invitation to continuing education. No wonder the Lord reveals His secrets to the meek, for they are “easy to be entreated.” (Alma 7:23.) Not only are the meek more teachable, but they continuously receive, with special appreciation, “the engrafted word,” as the Apostle James said—and, as Joseph Smith declared, the flow of pure intelligence—all from the divine databank. (James 1:21; Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1938, p. 151.)

But what exactly is meekness?  How does one go about acting in meekness and how is something viewed by the world as a weakness something that could potentially bring us strength and power?  Isn’t that an oxymoron?

Richard C. Edgley, the First Counsellor in the Presiding Bishopric during the 2003 General Conference spoke of the Empowerment of Humility.  After summarizing the lives of several members from his own ward whom he considers to be his heroes, he says the following:  “As I have pondered these faithful members, I am struck by two qualities they all seem to have. First, regardless of social or economic status or position, their humility leads to submissiveness to the Lord’s will. And second, in spite of the difficulties and trials of life, they are able to maintain a sense of gratitude for God’s blessings and life’s goodness. Humility and gratitude are truly the twin characteristics of happiness.”  First of all, I absolutely love that he overtly states that humility and gratitude are the legs of happiness.  This immediately throws out the claim that being meek is somehow being a doormat.  It reinforces that humility is a choice, as is gratitude, and that the two should be concurrent decisions.

He further continues with more examples of humility:  “within the membership of the Church we see men and women of all backgrounds humbly submitting to the counsel of God. We see the prominent business executive graciously and humbly receiving and being taught by a humble, sometimes even intimidated, home teacher.”  We had an intimidated home teacher, once.  He was the most consistent home teacher we have ever had and I was surprised to find out from his wife that he suffered from shyness that bordered on social anxiety.  I had no idea.  I was so touched by his humility to swallow his own fears and do as the Lord had asked him to do.    Brother Szeles placed the will of the Lord above his own and we were all blessed as a result.  I hope that in the subsequent years, when his life took a very difficult turn, that he felt our family’s support, a small token of appreciation for his service.

Brother Edgley teaches us that this humility, this act of placing the will of the Lord above our own, contains within it a remarkable power.  “The strength of the Church,” he says, “is in the millions of humble members striving every day to do the will of the Savior—day by day, one step at a time. These humble members come from all nationalities, all social strata, and every economic background. They include those of the highest educational backgrounds as well as those of the humblest who live in the smallest hamlets in the most remote areas of the world—all having hearts throbbing with a vital testimony of Jesus Christ and a desire to serve the Lord.”

The Lord’s organization for us is a cooperative one wherein pride has no place.  It is only through the humility of everyone working together, no one keeping score of who works harder or better or with more gusto or with prettier tablecloths, that we can truly accomplish the Lord’s work.  Our callings do not delineate our righteousness, nor does our gender, nor our pioneer heritage, nor those with whom we once rubbed shoulders.  It is our actions that determine our righteousness.  It is what we do with what we’ve got.  We need to learn to work under this celestial paradigm of cooperation and forget about the hierarchal, earthly construct of power and the only way to do that is by being meek.  Until then we are all jostling for position, acceptance and recognition, none of which enable us to be tools of the Lord.

Being meek requires accepting that we are not perfect.  It requires self-examination, repentance and self-correction.  As we reflect upon our actions and thoughts in a prayerful manner we can identify areas of improvement and seek the Lord’s divine assistance to change ourselves.  Just as we cannot have faith without humility, we cannot have repentance, either, without humility.

Being meek also requires accepting that others are not perfect.  Not only do we have to separate the actions of men from the teachings of God, but we need to cut each other some slack.  When we accept the fallibility of each other we can allow ourselves to feel compassion.

Elder Bednar, in a devotional in 2001, reminds us that knowledge comes “line upon line, precept upon precept.”  With a desire to clarify personal revelation he says the following: “I believe many of us unknowingly accept a faulty assumption about the Lord’s pattern. And this faulty assumption then produces erroneous expectations about how we receive spiritual knowledge. And that faulty assumption and our misinformed expectations ultimately hinder our ability to recognize and respond to the promptings of the Holy Ghost. Let me suggest that many of us typically assume we will receive an answer or a prompting to our earnest prayers and pleadings. And we also frequently expect that such an answer or a prompting will come immediately and all at once. Thus, we tend to believe the Lord will give us A BIG ANSWER QUICKLY AND ALL AT ONE TIME. However, the pattern repeatedly described in the scriptures suggests we receive “line upon line, precept upon precept,” or in other words, many small answers over a period of time. Recognizing and understanding this pattern is an important key to obtaining inspiration and help from the Holy Ghost.”

It takes patience to acquire information little by little, but the easy things are rarely worth pursuing.  Sometimes it means we have to stumble along for a time.  It takes a powerful desire to seek the truth and study it out to be sure it is true.  This is not a gospel of quick fixes and easy answers.  This is a gospel wherein we are expected to ask the tough questions and find out for ourselves.  There is no room for ego in this equation, only humility.  It is the humble prayer, the thoughtful meditation, and the patient searching that proves our dedication to our Father.

Recognizing the line upon line principle with regard to acquisition of knowledge also allows us to be more patient with humanity.  If I don’t have all the answers then I must out of necessity allow my brothers and sisters the space to seek out their answers as well.  If I can remember the days when I really wrestled with an idea then I can have compassion toward someone else who is figuring things out for him or herself.  We can work together, share our ideas, and we may even be the answer the other is seeking.

With regard to answers, few people have been shown it all.  Of those who have received the big picture, and have recorded the experience for our benefit, it never came because they sought glory.  They sought only to glorify God and do His work.  They were willing to do whatever the Lord asked.  The written records of these events highlight the magnitude of the knowledge: that the vision would leave a person physically spent, that the new prophet would -could- never be the same afterward, and that it was too marvelous to record.  Most of us here have many more lines and precepts to learn before we are ready for our own theophany.  It’s important to note, however, that even those enlightened prophets had to return regularly to the Lord for more guidance.  Even they could not do it alone: neither, then, can we.  Relying on the arm of the flesh will never be the catalyst we require to change ourselves to reflect the image of Christ.

Jesus Christ, after all, was the epitome of meekness.  With his oration as a boy he stumped the rabbis; he could surely have self-represented at his trial and defended himself.  With his power he wrought many miracles; he could surely have saved himself from death.  Even in the garden of Gethsamane, where he took upon himself the unbearable pain of all our sins and suffering, he could have stepped back when it got too hard, justifying that he went halfway and we should do the rest.  He even called out to Father in agony.  But He knew this was the will of Heavenly Father.  He knew the role for which he had volunteered.  He submitted to the pain and indignity of it all.  It was not an act of weakness but an incredible act of strength to do so.

Neal A Maxwell said, “It is meekness … which helps us to step gratefully forward to place on the altar the talents and time and self with which we are blessed—to be at God’s and His children’s disposal. The offering is of a gentled self, a self concerned with charity—not parity.  Yes, there are real costs associated with meekness. A significant down payment must be made. But it can come from our sufficient supply of pride. We must also be willing to endure the subsequent erosion of unbecoming ego. Furthermore, our hearts will be broken in order that they might be rebuilt. As Ezekiel said, one’s task is to “make you a new heart and a new spirit.” (Ezek. 18:31.) There is no way that such dismantling, such erosion, such rebuilding can occur without real cost in pain, pride, adjustments, and even some dismay. Yet since we cannot be “acceptable before God save [we are] meek and lowly in heart” (Moro. 7:44), the reality of that awesome requirement must be heeded! Better to save one’s soul than to save one’s face.”

Elder Bednar agrees and expounds upon this with a brief how-to.  “The process of discerning between our will and God’s will becomes less and less of a concern as time goes by and as we strive to rid ourselves of worldliness—and thereby cultivate the spirit of revelation in our lives. That is, as we mature spiritually, we begin to develop sound judgment, a refined and educated conscience, and a heart and mind filled with wisdom. It is not just that we have grown older, nor have we simply become smarter and had more experiences on which to draw, as important as those experiences are. Rather, the Holy Ghost has over time been expanding our intellect, forming our feelings, sharpening and elevating our perspective, such that we increasingly think and feel and act as the Lord would under similar circumstances. In short, we have made steady progress in obtaining “the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16).”

Meekness can be a strength in our lives.  Without it there is no faith.  Without it there is no repentance.  Without it we cannot be the hands of God on earth.  Richard Edgley concluded his talk with the following thoughts, “Humbly submitting our will to the Father brings us the empowerment of God—the power of humility. It is the power to meet life’s adversities, the power of peace, the power of hope, the power of a heart throbbing with a love for and testimony of the Savior Jesus Christ, even the power of redemption. To this end, the Savior is our supreme example of the power of humility and submissiveness. After all, His submitting His will to the Father brought about the greatest, and even the most powerful, event in all of history. Perhaps some of the most sacred words in all the scriptures are simply, “Not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42).

I would like to add my testimony to those I shared today.  I believe that as we place ourselves upon the altar of the Lord, as we refine ourselves to be more in tune with His will, and as we learn to overcome ego and pride and work together, that our collective strength will be powerful beyond measure.  I believe that the unique individuality with which we have been inherently blessed makes us singly important in the Lord’s plan, and that aligning ourselves to His will allows our uniqueness to be a blessing to others, fulfilling a role none other could do.  I believe that we are loved beyond our mortal comprehension and that it is when we are serving others that we can catch a glimpse of that infinite affection.  May we all strive for the meekness required to do the Lord’s will, and may we desire, rather than be compelled, to be meek is my prayer.