Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Would-Be Christmas Card

Something had to give this year.  I decided that back in October when, on top of an already crazy holiday season, I was asked to plan and direct our church's Stake Christmas program.  Yeah, I said October.  Not a lot of time to start a program from scratch, and I mean scratch.  They wanted something brand new and "QUALITY."  That was the word I heard over and over again.  Quality.  In two months.  Okay...

So something had to give...and it wasn't going to be my sanity.  Although that was sometimes questionable between choosing music, writing a script, rehearsing a 60-something voice choir, designing a slide show, lighting, costuming, advertising...oh, and you know...Thanksgiving and Christmas--that stuff.  So, after considering some of the items that had to be done, Christmas cards didn't make the cut.  After 17 years of consecutive card sending, 2011 feels a little naked, undone, unfinished, if you will.

And then, look what Mr. Wicke went a did.  He designed the cutest card we've probably ever had.  (Guess what's on his list of to-do's next year?)  Except he just did it two days ago.  And just for his facebook page, I guess, so you won't be getting it in the mail, but if I post it here can you just pretend you did?

And if I push hard enough, I may even get him to write a Christmas letter.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Who Invited the Grinch?

For two years running now, singing in a community choir has given me my favorite holiday memory.  Last year it was caroling and having the recipient close their garage door in our face (which takes a pretty long time and is really awkward.  I LOVED it!)  This year, it was during a really weird concert out in Sun City West.  It's a long way across the valley to get there, all of us fighting traffic the entire way.  When we finally arrive and take the stage, the piano is out of tune, the room has no ring to it, and the audience is nearly comatose.  Tough performance, but we smile, sing great and soldier on.   Then we get to the sing-a-long song (because every holiday concert needs a sing a long song!)  Our conductor turns to the audience and enthusiastically says, "Okay!  Now it's your turn!" and one old guy near the middle loudly grunts, "Oh, Lord!" so very loudly that it cracks me up.  I can barely sing the next song for laughing.

You gotta' love the holiday spirit...

Monday, December 12, 2011

Trying to Answer: Why Does God Allow Bad Things to Happen (part 3 of a 3 part series continued)

When it comes to dealing with pain, I'm a novice really.  I'm just trying to figure it out, so I turn to the pros.  People who have been there and done that, who have not only survived adversity but thrived.  They have much to teach us. 

The first important thing I've learned is that we must recognize that there is always a choice.  Viktor Frankl, a survivor of on of our world's most horrid injustices, a Nazi concentration camp, said, "A human being is not one thing among others; things determine each other, but man is ultimately self-determining. What he becomes - within the limits of endowment and environment- he has made out of himself. In the concentration camps, for example, in this living laboratory and on this testing ground, we watched and witnessed some of our comrades behave like swine while others behaved like saints. Man has both potentialities within himself; which one is actualized depends on decisions but not on conditions...We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms -- to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."

Here he teaches that a great stumbling block in the path of every human being is to blame the results of our lives on their circumstances.  In doing so we fictitiously relieve ourselves of responsibility--which can never really be--but simultaneously, we also remove our free will, making ourselves victims of those circumstances which we blame.  It is a powerless position, and we, who chose agency in the very beginning, don't like the way it feels.  It is miserable. 

I turn to an anonymous teacher, one who chose not to be identified in an article entitled "The Journey to Healing" in the September 1997 issue of Ensign magazine.  She said this: "I am a survivor of childhood physical, emotional, and sexual abuse.  I no longer view myself as a victim.  The change has come from inside of me--my attitude.  I do not need to destroy myself with anger and hate.  I don't need to entertain thoughts of revenge.  My Savior knows what happened.  He will be just.  I will leave it in His hands.  I will not be judged for what happened to me, but I will be judged by how I let it affect my life.  I am responsible for my actions and what I do with my knowledge.  I am not to blame for what happened to me as a child.  I cannot change the past.  But I can change the future.  I have chosen to heal myself and pass on to my children what I have learned.  The ripples in my pond will spread though future generations."

She has taken back her power through the powerful tool of forgiveness, a much misunderstood topic.  Forgiveness isn't so much for the offender as it is for the offended.  Forgiveness means giving up the anger, frustration, resentment, blame, and guilt of what is past so that it no longer can affect the present negatively.  It means we trust in a God who can and will make things right, that justice will be done, and that we can have peace now.  There are things we must all forgive, and the sooner we can do it, the more happy, peaceful, and productive our lives will be.

There also seems to be a connection in her story to finding meaning in the suffering one has undergone.  To hearken back to the wisdom of Viktor Frankl, he has said, "“In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice...If there is meaning in life at all, then there must be meaning in suffering.”  The anonymous woman, though I'm sure she would trade her past circumstances, may not trade the wisdom, insight, empathy, and self-worth she has gained because of them.  Could one exist without the other?  Could she have gained those same characteristics any other way?  I don't know, but what I do know is that God is capable of taking the ugliest, most painful situations of our lives and using them as our best teachers.  This particular woman has given her suffering meaning by becoming an agent for change and a teacher for future generations.  She provides a living example of another one of Frankl's resounding truths: "To give light one must endure burning."

Next, in one of the great ironies of life, we must use our agency to submit our will to the Fathers.  No where is there a better example of this than in the life of our Savior.  A every turn he communicated, "Not my will, but thine."   As Robert D. Hales says, "By His perfect life, He taught us that when we choose to do the will of our Heavenly Father, our agency is preserved, our opportunities increase, and we progress."  Our agency, the first gift of our Father to us, is truly the only thing that is uniquely ours to give because it is this agency that allows us to choose God or not.  He has given it to us knowing that we can wield it to turn away from Him, but if we will lay it on the alter and like Jesus say, "Thy will be done," we are trusting in a creator who dreams bigger dreams for us than we do for ourselves.  We rely on the Master who knows more than we know, even about ourselves. 

In painful circumstances, we must remember that we are always valuable, that God always loves us and believes in us, and that He will provide every needful thing.  In the LDS religion we are taught, "Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their won free will, and bring to pass much righteousness.  FOR THE POWER IS IN THEM, wherein they are agents unto themselves.  And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward" (Doctrine and Covenants 58:27-28).  What is that power He is talking about?  It must be, at least in great part, the power to choose--to choose Him, to choose His Son, to choose happiness, to choose the right, to choose a better way of living. 

Life has a way, sometimes through adversity, of questioning us.  That, I think, was always God's intent.  In response to life's questioning we get to choose, and what we choose to do determines who we will become; that is our final answer. 

In Mosiah 8:18 we read, "Thus God has provided a means that man, through faith, might work mighty miracles; therefore he becometh a great benefit to his fellow beings."  I still believe in a God that can work miracles, and I might be a little closer to understanding the real miracle of living.  I've come to a place that can dash my heart to pieces, it's true; but through my faith in our Savior's atonement it can be repaired, and while it is being sewn up again I gain patience, and wisdom, and generosity, and empathy, and understanding, and kindness, and forgiveness, a benefit not only to me but those in my circle of influence...Isn't that the miracle?  And if the miracle I seek is for him to keep my heart whole in the first place won't I miss what He is really trying to do for me?  Won't I miss the miracle altogether?

So I'm grateful for my life--all of it!  The mess, the hurt, the worry, the sorrow, as well as all the good stuff that goes along with it.  I'm grateful for the miracle that is living and for a wise Father who allows me to experience all of it and who has lovingly provided His Son to make sure I can find my way back home.  I certainly don't seek adversity, but I am beginning to understand its needful place in answering this vital question:  "Who will I be even when things go wrong?"

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Trying to Answer: Why Does God Allow Bad Things to Happen (part 3 of a 3 part series)

I'm trying to answer these questions for no one but myself, but if you are interested in reading my first two essays, you can find them here and here.

In the middle of our infertility issues, I remember wondering which of all the terrible things I had ever done had caused this to happen, for surely this was some kind of punishment.  After all, I believe in a God of miracles.  I know that He and His Son can cure any affliction.  Clearly, I was unworthy of such a blessing.  Or maybe I was just so stubborn that God had to teach me the hard way.  Or maybe I just didn't have the kind of faith necessary to call forth such a miracle.  Whatever it was, whether in my past or present, obviously the problem was due to some deficiency in me, and God was just going to have to punish it out of me.  That was the conversation in my head on the bad days, even though I knew better. 

I don't, in fact, believe in a wrathful, angry, vengeful God, but when things go wrong, it's only human nature to find a reason for it, and sometimes when there is no good explanation, the one we grasp at is that our suffering must be a sign of God's displeasure.  Suddenly, God no longer resembles a loving father, but looks more like Zeus, grabbing that lightening bolt of his in rage and pointing it right at my back.  And so it was that in my late 20's I began to question the nature of God, His plan, His purposes, and my place within all of it.  Who was He, really?  And who was I to Him?  Once so sure of the answers--at least when the questions were much more simple--I was now floundering in deeper waters.

Then one day, as I turned to John, I read, "And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth.  And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?  Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him" (John 9:1-3).  Never before had this particular passage spoken to personally to me.  It looked like I was asking an age old question, and there was peace in Christ's answer...but there were more questions, too.  Like, what exactly are the works of God?  And how, exactly, were they going to be made manifest in our infertility?  I still didn't have the whole answers for those.

As I have come to believe, the true answer, I think, begins in the lesson of the third of the host of heaven who in their premortal existence followed Satan and his plan for forced salvation.  Elder Robert D. Hales taught that, "Those who followed Satan lost the opportunity to receive a mortal body, live on Earth, and progress.  Because of the way they used their agency, they lost their agency."  What I find fascinating in that teaching is the connection between progress and agency.  Because they do not have the opportunity to experience mortal life, in all it's imperfection, they can not progress.  There is a direct correlation there, and it hints, I believe, at what the works of God actually entail.

His goal does not seem to be to provide a perfect life for each of us, but rather to give us life so that we might become perfected.  He doesn't seem to be so interested in clearing our path but far moreso in clarifying our hearts.  Like a good parent, He knows that what is best for us isn't that we are always just happy.  If that were the case He would give us everything we want the very minute we want it.  He would protect us from natural consequences.  He would shield us from pain.  Every real life parent knows how well that would turn out, right?  Though we want our children to be happy, we know that focusing primarily on giving them only happiness will actually end in misery.  God knows that real happiness--progression, salvation, and eternal life--come with certain costs.  Costs that seem necessary in some larger way.  In making those payments we have to opportunity to reap gread dividends, but He also knows that it is how we manage those payments that will make all the difference.

Our use of agency in responding to pain determines the outcome.  Pain does not have to embitter us.  Pain does not have to ruin us.  I absolutely know that there is a way to encounter pain so that it can be our best teacher.

(to be continued...because although I have deep thoughts, I have a life that gets in the way of writing them down.)

Monday, December 5, 2011


My mom missed her flight.

It was a bad moment in my kitchen when, at 12:15 pm she realized that her plane left at 12:25 pm instead of 2:50 pm.  I may have heard her curse.  Maybe that happened.  You'll never hear me confirm it.  (Not in front of her, anyway.)

I felt really terrible.  I should have double checked, but Mom doesn't like to feel like she is being "taken care of."  I wouldn't either.  Not after almost 80 years of living.  So I try to give her her space.  Still, I should have double checked because then it would have kept her from saying, "Well, that's it.  I'm done flying.  I just can't do it."  Four days later I may be close to talking her down from that ledge.  Maybe.  I can't be sure.  I may never see her again.

I credit her overreaction to the two hours we waited in line to REBUY a ticket.  That's right.  No refunds.  No credit.  Just forfeit the ticket and start again.  It was ugly.  And it may have been the wheelchair she had to sit in because her back started killing her after 40 minutes.  That hurt her pride.  Aging stinks.

But, on the bright side, she was able to spend a few days with her sister and sister-in-law in Sun City.  That perked her up a bit.  And today I plan to let her beat me in cards.  Later I will pray for snow.  Lots and lots of snow for Wyoming.

If all goes well, I may see her back down here in January. 

(image found here.)