Thursday, March 20, 2014

No Priesthood for me, thanks!

I have read a little about the Ordain Women movement going on in the LDS Church. I confess up front that I am not extensively informed on all the reasons behind the desire some women have to stand on equal ground with our brothers in the church and have the privilege of being ordained to the same offices of priesthood authority. I am not trying to downplay their very strong feelings or discredit any of their arguments. I just want to say for myself, no thank you. I do not want the priesthood.

If the Lord really opened it up and allowed that women be ordained to the priesthood, would it be optional? The brethren are expected to receive the priesthood at a certain age, and if they have not, they are not considered to be spiritually "on track" until they have. Their leaders work with them patiently and persistently until they are worthy of ordination. If I said I didn't want to opt in, would I be frowned upon as a less faithful member of the church? Would I be shirking my responsibilities to excecise all the blessings afforded me by the gospel? I hope not, because I would not want that responsibility. I would NOT want the possibility looming over me that I might be called to be a bishop, a stake president, an area authority. My hands are full enough already. I believe in obediently accepting every call to serve that comes through my leaders. If I had the priesthood I would have to be ready and willing at any moment to accept calls like that, even if it meant doing it while my children were still young. Of him unto whom much is given, much is required. I don't think having young children would be any excuse to not be given such duties. If God were to say, okay it's time, we would have to shoulder every call without complaint. I would do it, but please, I'm not ready!

And I don't think I will be in this lifetime. My motherhood responsibilities will not end when my children leave home. I expect I will be a grandma, and my kids will still need my advice, and my babysitting help, and want to have visits from grandma. I know my mom took no greater delight in anything than from doing all those things for us. If I had heavy priesthood duties, I would not be as free to do all those things. I know our families often have to make sacrifices when mom or dad have demanding callings, but really, can't we at least be guaranteed some kind of relief from how demanding it can get?

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Giving Purpose to Pain

When I was in my early 20's I exercised my grown-up rights and adopted a kitten. She was an absolute doll. I picked her out of the litter because while all the others were frolicking on the floor, she lay in my lap and just started at me with her electric blue eyes, her wise little soul gazing deep into mine. It kind of took my breath away, and for the next 6 months, she was my best friend. I thanked God every night for her, giggling my way through my bedside prayers because she was nuzzling my face and begging for my attention.

That chapter of my life ended with my kitten contracting a pair of fatal diseases and having to be put to sleep. I couldn't believe the pain I felt, the questions why, the emptiness of abandonment. Why, I asked, would God take the one thing away from me that I had asked him never to take? What would it have hurt if he had let me keep my kitten? For years, I had a small pessimistic feeling that good things were not meant to be mine, that anything I truly loved could easily be taken from me. It frightened me how painful it was, and I worried, if it was that hard to take my cat dying, how on earth will I handle it if I lose a child? I understood that experiencing loss is part of life, something we have to learn in order to truly appreciate the day when we will no longer be separated from those we love. It also helps us to better console each other by making us more sympathetic. I hoped these were the only reasons I was passing through that trial, but I think a part of me remained fearful that it was just a primer, a trial run of something far more heart wrenching, and something inside me has been bracing itself all these years.

So here I am, facing the first real tragic loss of my life. My mother is only turning 62 in 4 weeks. Until this disease seized her brain, she was active and healthy and in complete command of her mental faculties. I had normal conversations with her just 2 months ago, even though they were fraught with worry over the mysterious symptoms she was beginning to have. At least there's one advantage to being on this side of knowing the prognosis: I'm not worried about what might happen. I'm here, living in a kind of bad dream, and all I can do now is decide, like Gandalf said so wisely, what to do with the time that has been given me.

My feelings change frequently. Some days I think I'm okay. After we found out mom was going to die, I got to spend the week with her. There was a special spirit in her home, I presume because all the focus of everyone there was just making mom feel safe, loved, comfortable and happy. I felt like I was in a cloud of peace and comfort, and blessed with an amazing strength to handle this with grace and dignity.  I trusted I would be a far better person for passing through this fire.

Then I had to go home, drive kids and husbands to school, shop for groceries, do the daily load of laundry and try to fold and put it away before losing steam, cook meals, clean house, break up fights, do taxes, and always keep my cool. I think my peace cloud lasted less than 24 hours.

Thankfully I wrote down some of the things I felt would help me through, and even though sometimes it's hard to still feel strongly about all these things, I know they are still good advice. My mom gave her whole life to raise us and instill in us every bit of wisdom and truth we would need to live successful lives. I feel the greatest honor I can do her now is to carry on and make her proud. It hurts like heck going through this. My life is a minefield of cry-fest inducing memories. I can't walk through this house without seeing something mom bought me or made for my kids. Even my fridge isn't safe to dig through because it has things like the chocolate soy milk she got me hooked on, or the Jarlsberg cheese I got her hooked on. I could totally let myself drown in all the misery of missing her, or, I have counseled myself, I can give purpose to the pain, and let those reminders keep me on track to being a better person. Here are some of the things I'm trying to remember:

1. This experience gives me clearer perspective. Relationships matter. Families matter. The condition of my heart matters. Owning that cute necklace I saw at the mall does not matter. Being up to date on the most popular TV shows does not matter. Having a perfectly decorated Pinterest worthy home does not matter.

2. This experience reminds me that I don't have time to be idle. Life is short. Recreation is good, but idleness squanders one of God's most precious gifts to us. For years I have struggled off and on with a small video game addiction. I kept it like a naughty little pet, assuring myself that I had it under control, that I was still getting the important things done, and I just needed some time to unwind. One hour of gaming was a harmless way to do that. But one hour turned into 3 hours past my bedtime, and the resulting cold-cereal-for-breakfast, grumpy-tired-mom sort of day that happened far too often. I also started kicking myself thinking of the creative energy I could have been spending on art projects or home projects, with something to show for it in the real world when I was done, but all I ever seemed to crave was another jaunt in that artificial cyber-world. I knew something was wrong with this picture, but it took my mom dying to give me the wakeup call. I don't have a problem with video games in general, but I can see I did not have control of my habit, it was controlling me, and I am happy to take an extended break from it. Maybe I will never go back at all.

3. This experience will make me more compassionate. One of my favorite quotes from the writings of Joseph Smith Jr. came from a letter penned just after he was released from a miserable winter spent in Liberty Jail. He had been unjustly incarcerated and rendered helpless to assist his friends and family who were being persecuted and murdered and forcibly driven from their homes. After all this, Joseph wrote to a friend, "It seems to me that my heart will always be more tender after this than ever it was before...For my part I think I never could have felt as I now do if I had not suffered the wrongs that I have suffered. All things shall work together for good to them that love God." I want to come out of this with that kind of faith and sensitivity.

4. This experience is teaching me how to keep it real. I am an emotional creature. I wear my feelings on my sleeve, and although I have matured a lot over the past years, there is still a lot of the melodramatic in my nature. I had a tendency to "put on the emotion" just a little bit, perhaps in a slightly manipulative way at times. It was usually subconscious, but on the very rare occasion it snuck its way into my conscious and intentional actions. (Do you hear how desperately I am trying to downplay this flaw?) Now that I have something in my life that seems genuinely tragic, I feel really stupid about everything I acted so upset about before, and I'm kind of tired of it. Grief can be exhausting. I don't know how Archie Craven or Mary Crowley could keep it up for months or years. I'm just tired of being sad. I mean, when you gotta cry, fine, have your cry, but there comes a point when you've got to go have a laugh at something or change the subject or you might just collapse. I think I have a better idea now of how much emotion is truly appropriate, and I don't ever want to go beyond that, especially intentionally. I feel much better equipped to handle hard things, simply because I no longer feel like I will be overwhelmed by the pure emotional burden of it. You can't carry those kind of burdens around. You have to put them down.

Which leads to #5. This experience is teaching me not to worry so much! I am a worry wort. So was my mom. She worried about planning and arranging big events. She worried about aluminum in anti-perspirants being a possible cause of Alzheimer's. She worried about offending people. I worry about raising my kids. I worry about getting things done. I worried about tragedy striking and how I would handle it. Now here I am, and I am finding it is a lot easier to handle tragedy when it actually happens than when you are waiting around for it to happen. Because honestly, there's very little you can do beforehand. We prepare for what we can, but then we leave it in God's hands. And if something happens that we weren't prepared for, we deal with it. Why waste time wondering what we would do, if we don't even have all the details? You can't solve a problem if you don't even know what the problem is, so why waste time trying to?

6. This experience proves that laughter is medicine. While mom doesn't say much, I think we all take great delight in still being able to make her laugh. Before I arrived when the family gathered 2 weeks ago, those that were with mom entertained her with a rollicking round of an improv game called "What are you doing?" One of our favorite teachers had taught it to us in elementary school. Word is, they had mom in stitches. While I was there, we also enjoyed watching some funny movies and shows, and some upbeat music videos with her. It tickled us all to see our mostly immobile mom tapping her feet, almost involuntarily, to the infectious "Smiles For Life." Despite his somber reputation, all us kids know better about our dad, that he is a big tease, and he still takes pride in being able to make mom smile at his jokes. Laughter and cheerfulness has made this whole process so much more bearable.

7. Because of this experience, I no longer want to waste any time being angry. This is perhaps the hardest lesson for me. Being a mom is incredibly challenging. Sometimes I feel like my kids are 10 times harder than me and my siblings must have been. I certainly don't remember quite so much yelling going on, and I could be certain we did our homework independently most of the time and never talked back disrespectfully to our parents. My room wasn't perfect, but I remember cleaning it of my own volition now and again, and chores were something we knew was just expected of us. We played on the computer, but that was only a small fraction of the creative things we did for fun. We were always coming up with new adventures in creativity. So where did these kids come from? Why do they challenge every thing I say? Where are all these messes coming from? Where is the fighting coming from? Why do they get bored with anything not shining out from a screen? Anyway, I'm drifting. My point is about anger. I don't want to go there. Sure this is hard, and lots of things frustrate me. But I can't spend my energy that way. It's counterproductive. People aren't perfect. I'm not perfect. We are all working on it, and we all deserve and owe all the patience that can be afforded. We all need to breathe more deeply and let things go a lot more, and lighten up.

If I can internalize all this, then my mom will not die in vain. She will have in fact given her life for my sake, sacrificing those 2 or more additional decades we could have had with her in order for us all to become more mature, more compassionate, more grateful, more productive. And the pain will all have a purpose.