Monday, September 28, 2015

On a Mission - Week 3 - out of the blue

Oregon blue

Three months ago, this blue sky, these blue cabbages on the way to pick blueberries seemed only to promise the perfect Oregon summer.

"What do you need to make this summer summer for you?" I'd asked both boys.

"Picking berries," said Young.

"Pool party," said Mijo.

"I can do that," I said.  And the very first day of summer vacation, we did.  Early in the morning under the clearest blue sky, we dropped bouncing blueberries into old ice cream buckets and then in the first heat of afternoon carted Mijo and his buds to the community pool to splash and play.

Little Boy Blue and his buds

Two days later I woke singing Glorious.  I couldn't get it out of my head.  All day I kept hearing that song sing inside me, my heart rising and wings filling my mind.  In the afternoon, sitting in the sweet evening air of early summer, I poured my heart out with joy praying for my beloveds and felt a sweet, deep, unaccountable buoyancy of hope and promise rise up inside me -- such good things were coming soon, soon, soon.

a glory in the heavens

That hopeful happiness kept rising in me even through the next day when Fritz came home early, one of many high-tech over-50s who found themselves out of a job that first Monday of summer vacation.

Out of the blue, our summer was changed and our lives reshaped.

The next few days it was still too raw to trumpet the blues to anyone beyond our nearest and dear.  But the strangeness of our new reality was all the stranger because I couldn't feel cast down.  The song of lifting joy still played on in me.  I couldn't feel the loss but only how much I've loved living here.  I bored my social media circle with pictures of the things that made me happy:

The problem with having chickens is it gives me such bliss to watch them clucking around with their comfortable self-satisfied here-and-now-ness and the way the little wind ruffles up their skirt feathers and the sunlight makes their neck feathers gleam . . .
 . . . See, I can't even get a post written without straying off into blissiness and meanwhile the apples are still sagging in their canvas bags desperate to be sauced.

Summer kept grinding on, the rain stayed away.  I began to sort through the house.  Getting ready? Wasting time?  What seemed most real was just how sweet the everyday delights have been and are and surely in some sort of way will always be.

Is it just because of the sun
today that I believe I've loved
every day living in Oregon?
Nah.  I think it's really true.
Trying to let go
of things I've kept too long.
But this blue?
This blue I'm keeping.

And then a friend responded: "I hate to ask. Not my business. But why? Why get rid of your life pieces? Are you going to have to carry them with you somewhere? Portage your bookshelf?"  

Her words gave me an image of such delight: my intrepid band of adventurers tromping through the forest around the hungry rocks and roaring falls with a bookshelf-boat balanced on our shoulders.  Maybe that's what we were doing?

What are we doing?  I didn't know.  Still don't.  All I know is that the answer will be glorious.

I didn't realize when I first heard it that this was going to become my theme song but it *is glorious* how answers come sometimes before the questions.

"There are times when
You might feel aimless
You can't see the places
Where you belong

But you will find that
There is a purpose
It's been there within you all along . . . "

I'm sure as sure can be there is a purpose hovering near.  I can feel it, but I can't see it.

I can't even be sure what I should be looking for.  But I keep finding glimpses.

Because the world is forever full of delightful surprises,
just waiting to be discovered.

For example, summer has now turned at last.   It is autumn.
Officially.  Even if it's still as hot as any summer I can remember.

And out of the blue, life takes another turn.

Remember this time last week?
I barely do, the climate seems so different.

end of summer blues

Last Monday evening I wrote down a list of questions I needed answers to, starting out
*Do I get a job?  
The next day a friend forwarded an opening at the high school as College Readiness Coordinator.  Do I want it?  The more I've looked at the position and the possibilities, the more I look at all I've done volunteering and sitting on committees and all I've hoped to see happen here in this town I love, the more I'm convinced this could be the very path for me.  Not just a way to get insurance for my family (though having that would put one of my most pressing worries to rest), but a real path.  By midweek I had my resume in and the very next day the school called to set up an interview . . . and when is it?

October 1st.

Right when I said a few weeks ago I thought I'd be ready to start living with a sense of mission, back before I decided I never would be ready unless I started immediately.

Maybe something in me knew better than I knew.

Blue upon blue upon glorious blue
How everything can change straight out of the blue.

Monday, September 21, 2015

On a Mission - Week 2 - sore heart (or, what I learned from an EKG)

Well, my dears, 

This week began with a Sunday where I couldn't sleep, my heart racing and racing, that weird ache in my chest that has plagued me this summer clawing in a little deeper.  All week my lungs, or my heart, or maybe it was just a chest muscle I pulled swimming hurt, until "What a weird thing?" turned into 

"I'm sure it's nothing," turned into 

"I know Dad had a heart attack, but he wasn't young like I am,"  

into "I am still young.  And healthy really,"  

Which changed into, "Even if I really should lose some weight," 

into "No one my age has that kind of thing happen,"  

into "Right?"

And then Thursday, hope squashed down again when Fritz's interview turned out not so promising as we had built ourselves up to believe.  

Hungry, empty and aching in more senses than one, I took my sore heart to the temple to find peace and clarity and while there felt the idea come that in the scriptures I could find the path and peace I needed.  So at the cafeteria afterwards, with a steaming plate wafting out comforting aromas in front of me, I opened to this:

2 Nephi 3:13 - And out of weakness he shall be made strong, in that day when my work shall commence among all my people, unto the restoring thee, O house of Israel, saith the Lord.
Which I sent with a brimming heart to Fritz and then continued to read: words that fell, each one like the rain we've been needing this hot dry summer that keeps dragging on and dragging on.   It was a rainstorm and a feast in every sense of the word -- the relief to be found in rebounding hope.

And at this very moment, a busy little man bustled up to me. For a minute I thought, 
he isn't coming to offer to take my plate to the kitchen window, is he? 
That's incredibly kind but that really wouldn't be necessary. 

And he said, "I have to tell you . . . "
And I thought, What? Do I look like his sister? Do I remind him of his mother? 
Or is he coming with that last nugget of wisdom that I need to top this off. 
And I looked up, smiling into his eyes.
And he continued, " . . . those devices aren't allowed in here."
Because, of course, I'm not poring over a book, but over my phone.
 I said, "Oh, I didn't realize. Sorry. But I was just  - "
But he turns away on his heel, not interested in my reasons or excuses.
Correct, I'll grant him, but so curt.
I try to shake it off: I can't be embarrassed by so small a man.
There's nothing to do but shrug
and laugh off such a self-important nubbins.

But then, I am embarrassed.

Three months of unemployment and worry have been daily stripping me down to my most vulnerable core.  I sit with flaming face in my hands, taking some painful comfort in imagining a dozen kinder ways he could have delivered his correction.  If it really was so necessary for him to have delivered it at all. But my heart feels frozen with shame and though I want to get up and leave, I can't make myself get up and risk the eyes of any bystanders.

And then my heart is flooded with sudden empathy for the aching heart of someone I was worried I had offended and whom I had been praying to understand.  My heart feels so wounded and I realize this may have been how my wounded friend was feeling.  But then before I know it I pass beyond that moment of grace and I am angry, like a lava stream.  I'm going to get myself up and go see if I can run into that little dribble and if I do I'll say something that cuts him to the heart, that breaks him open so he feels more compassion, too.

I don't see the little fellow anywhere on my way out, though I look sharply in the faces of any number of startled little men. Heading out through the foyer, my heart is full of fire instead of despair, which at least is a change from the way I had felt coming in, at least anger has got me moving again.

But then sitting by the door, a tiny woman, frail, with long white hair, seems to see something of my trouble in my face and struggles to her feet at my approach. She reaches out awkwardly with a bent and knotted hand, smiling up into my face, saying, "Thank you. Thank you, for coming," her face concerned and gentle.

The utter sweetness of her tired old face and the humble kindness of her wrecked hand reaching for my shoulder, undoes me, melts me down.  By the time I get home and tell the whole story to my sister, we're both laughing.

And then later that evening, by heaven's lucky chance, I happen upon this:

“Nothing is so much calculated to lead people to forsake sin as to take them by the hand, and watch over them with tenderness. When persons manifest the least kindness and love to me, O what power it has over my mind, while the opposite course has a tendency to harrow up all the harsh feelings and depress the human mind.”  - Joseph Smith
Oh, ain't it the truth?  And now if I can only remember this just as vividly when I am dishing out and not just on the receiving end.

"A very interesting quote you posted," a friend responds the next day. "Brings up lots of thoughts and feelings... hope you are ok.  "

When I tell her the story, she sympathizes: " ...when we are vulnerable, it doesn't take much to wound us or to make it a grievous injury. I'm a bit jealous that you can recognize humble kindness because I always attach a motive when someone offers it to me."

"I'm willing to take sunshine however it comes," I type back. "My feeling about motives is they're such a mixed bag anyway.  Like Eyring says: 'We do not know the hearts of those who offend us. Nor do we know all the sources of our own anger and hurt.' That's been my mantra for years and a good one to keep reminding myself of today."

"Exactly!" she exclaims.  "We don't know anyone's heart, least of all our own. Knowing your heart is probably mortality's greatest challenge."

But then I wonder, how well do I know my own heart?

Well, I've had it examined.  That's how the week ended.  I went out walking with my usual Saturday morning buddy and when my heart did its war dance, she wouldn't listen to my, "Oh, it's just nothing," but bundled me into her car and took me to the clinic for a EKG.  Urgent Care rushed me in with no waiting.  And I lay for a long peaceful hour in a quiet peaceful room hooked up to monitors while my heart fluttered and wrung.   And then calmed.  

And then they told me I was fine.  No cardiac enzymes at all.
It was just nothing.

Just stress.
Surprise, surprise.

But the care of my friends, the gentleness of the staff at the clinic reminded me that all along, the whole summer and even now, really . . .    I. Am. Fine. 

I'm fine.  I have been fine.  I will be fine.  And next week will be better than this last.  My troubled heart will find peace again.  Maybe especially because I'm carrying with me now the memory of that bent and aged lady who rose on trembling legs to give from weakness the strength my sore heart needed.

Monday, September 14, 2015

On a Mission - Week 1: the abyss


Dearests, welcome to my life --

What do you do when your life falls into the abyss?

What can you do but climb out again?
(and write cartoon apology/love letters)

And start all over.  

And even then my gallant little ship of soul was torpedoed once again when I couldn't respond with a can-do attitude or even a how-about-this-instead approach to a (perhaps somewhat unrealistic?) request from a friend in crisis. And having to put in public words how without-a-job our family is made it all more real than ever.  And more and more the burden bore down how unpromising the horizon looks.  And worst of all is how worthless I feel.  How can I be any kind of helping hands if I have nothing in my hands to give?  

But the Lord is mindful of me always.  And when I am mindful of Him, I can come within earshot of His voice.  I was poking around on my Gospel Library app and found a whole area with support materials for missionaries.  In "Adjusting to Missionary Life"  the first section is about understanding and managing stress.  

Yup, I thought, even if my mission is just to live my life with some kind of dignity and peace and not drive the people around me crazy.

I began to read and at these words . . . 
"Be kind to yourself.  Talk to yourself with the same kind, comforting words you would use with someone else.  Everyone gets frustrated or makes mistakes sometimes.  Know that the Lord understands.  Imagine Him sitting close to you, listening and offering support.  Remember, thoughts of helplessness, hopelessness, or harsh condemnation are not from the Lord."
. . . I began to sob, laying my head down on my arms there at the table. 

For a moment it was if I really was sitting there with my Savior and He was listening to me and assuring me that I had it in me to carry on.  

And so, here I am, carrying on. As usual.  The Abyss is just my usual first stop on any important journey. 

Monday, September 7, 2015

On a Mission - Week 0 : ready or not

Ephraim Hanks - "ANGEL of MERCY" by Clark Kelly Price
Well, my dears --

Yes, last week's message was Week -4.  And now suddenly we're at Week 0?  Time is elastic certainly, but this is not a case of quantum strangeness.  Nor is it so much changing my mind as having my mind changed.

Because yesterday was the first Sunday of the month, Fast Sunday, a day of prayer and meditation, and in the midst of all those good feelings of peace and uplift after a strugglish week came the reminder that if I really wanted to be like the Martin-Willey handcart hero, Ephraim Hanks, who brought the first hope on the trail to my own great-great+ grandparents, then like him I needed to say, "I'm ready to go now."

I'm never really going to be all the way ready until I start moving forward.

Just like any bike ride I set out just going pedal-pedal-pedal, with only one or two days' worth of food, insufficient muscles, and only more or less adequate maps.  It's as I get my wheels rolling, as I start working up the hills that my strength grows, that I find along the way better maps, farmer's markets, and perfect-maple-bar bakeries to supplement my provisions.  

And if there are flat tires along the way -- that's why I carry a patch kit and make sure Fritz is always there to hand it to.

So, enough with wearing my baggy grey Senator Palpatine hoodie and dragging around despairing and full of anxiety!  

not a good role model
Enough with bemoaning the weedy state of my yard and my mind and the uncertainty that looms on every side! 

I begin my 18 months of conscious everyday commitment to living like God owns my life: Today. 

What is my mission? 

I don't know yet.  I thought I would figure that out before setting out to do it.  But now I am beginning to think that my mission is to figure out what my mission is supposed to be.

Certainly it includes coming closer to Him, learning His gospel better, and enjoying more fully the life He's given me -- and talking more openly about what I find on my way.

I know that it also includes taking care of my family.  I've found this week Julie Beck's approach to the mundane daily chores of caring for a family redirecting my aim from the anxiousness of not knowing where we'll be and how and when, to the heart of what I need to be doing:
it made a difference to me to know that I wanted a house of order. It became a priority to make a place where the Spirit of the Lord could come. Cooking meals for my family took on added meaning because I needed a place to teach and gather and have the Lord’s Spirit there. 
I want to give this idea a more robust physical existence in my own life. 

But beyond that, all I have so far is a sense that my mission is to make myself ready to serve.  

"I Will Go" by Julie Rogers
I loved reading this week about how Ephraim Hanks was fishing at Utah Lake and stopped overnight with friends in Draper on his way back home to Salt Lake.  In the night he heard a voice:

"The handcart people are in trouble and you are wanted; will you go and help them?" Ephraim wrote, "I turned instinctively in the direction from whence the voice came and beheld an ordinary-sized man in the room. Without any hesitation I answered, 'Yes, I will go if I am called.' " This message was repeated two more times. 
"I now hastened to Salt Lake City," Ephraim continued, "and arrived there on the Saturday, preceding the Sunday on which the call was made for volunteers to go out and help the last handcart companies in. When some of the brethren responded by explaining that they could get ready to start in a few days, I spoke at once saying, 'I am ready now!' The next day I was wending my way eastward over the mountains with a light wagon all alone."
I think it's no coincidence that just as he was quick to hear God's voice and quick to put himself on the road to helping where he was needed, the Lord was not slow in answering his prayers for help:

I camped in the snow in the mountains. As I was preparing to make a bed in the snow with the few articles that my pack animal carried for me, I thought how comfortable a buffalo robe would be on such an occasion, and also how I could relish a little buffalo meat for supper, and before lying down for the night I was instinctively led to ask the Lord to send me a buffalo. Now, I am a firm believer in the efficacy of prayer, for I have on many different occasions asked the Lord for blessings, which He in His mercy has bestowed on me. But when I, after praying as I did on that lonely night in the South Pass, looked around me and spied a buffalo bull within fifty yards of my camp, my surprise was complete; I had certainly not expected so immediate an answer to my prayer. However, I soon collected myself and was not at a loss to know what to do. ... 
The following day Ephraim killed another buffalo, "impressed to do this, although I did not know why until a few hours later, but the thought occurred to my mind that the hand of the Lord was in it, as it was a rare thing to find buffalo herds around that place at this late part of the season. I skinned and dressed the cow; then cut up part of its meat in long strips and loaded my horses with it."
Ephraim Hanks finding the Martin handcart company
It was that evening (Nov. 11) that he saw the Martin Handcart Company in the distance — "like a black streak in the snow. ... I reached the ill-fated train just as the emigrants were camping for the night. The sight that met my gaze as I entered their camp can never be erased from my memory. The sufferers, as they moved about slowly, shivering with cold, to prepare their scanty evening meal was enough to touch the stoutest heart. When they saw me coming, they hailed me with joy inexpressible, and when they further beheld the supply of fresh meat I brought into camp, their gratitude knew no bounds. Flocking around me, one would say, 'Oh, please, give me a small piece of meat;' another would exclaim, 'My poor children are starving, do give me a little,' and children with tears in their eyes would call out, 'Give me some, give me some.' At first I tried to wait on them and handed out the meat as they called for it, but finally I told them to help themselves. Five minutes later both my horses had been released of their extra burden — the meat was all gone, and the next few hours found the people in camp busily engaged in cooking and eating it, with thankful hearts."
When Ephraim found the helpless immigrants, their food supply was nearly exhausted. A half-dozen deaths were occurring daily due to the bitter cold and hunger. They had been without help for 36 days and even the strongest were beginning to lose hope. 

I want to live like Ephraim Hanks.

I want so badly to know where we will be -- if we'll stay here or get a job elsewhere.

Even without knowing, though, my life is good.

And this Sunday taught me again that putting myself on the road, putting my hands out there to be the Lord's hands, fills me and lifts me up - volunteering to fetch a young family who needed a ride, taking a shrieking 3 year old and letting her mother go to women's class for once.  I want my life to be more full of the filling and uplifting acts of friendliness and less of the depleting doubts and worry.  And I think living with a mission-sense of service is an important part.

Yesterday, to quiet the three-year-old shrieker, I carried her up and down the hallways by the Primary room and told and retold the stories of Jesus shown in each of the pictures.  Every time we passed this one --

I looked up at that beckoning hand and then looked down at that little disconsolate face, telling her through the streaked window of her attention, "Look, here is Jesus.  He is saying, Come. He is saying, Follow Me."

She would stop her crying for a minute, then start again.  Back and forth I walked that hallway, stopping over and over at this picture, telling her (and myself) this same story about Come, about Follow Me.

And so here I am, trying to untangle myself from the nets and splashing through the shoreline mud and straggling up to get on the road where His footsteps are.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

On a Mission - Week -4 : and counting . . .

Dear ones,
Since the layoff it's been a little scary around here.  So when Eldest invited me to join her in an 18-month mission-at-home dedicated to intentional living, I grasped on to the idea like the drowning doubter I am.  I realize that I'm not as ready as Eldest yet to commit.  But the desire is in me to get there - I guess I'm more in the putting in my papers stage.  But I am committing to start my own member mission October 1st. 

In the meantime I'm going to put my house in order, grateful for this impetus to lift me from the worry and uncertainty of this season of unemployment. 
These next 4 weeks I'm working to get physically ready
      * adjust to sleep 9:30-5
      * get off sugar
      * be more faithful with daily strengthening stretches and 1/2 hr cardio exercise
emotionally ready
     * settle family into new school schedule
     * reset my nightly journal habit
     * practice the no-yell, no-lecture procedure (yet again)
financially ready
     * follow up job opportunity as online tutor
    * keep a frugal household budget
    * make bread each week
    * plant my winter herbs & greens
    * can applesauce, peaches? & salsa
environmentally ready
    * remove all the excess from my closet
    * clear out laundry room and pantry
    * set rocks and plant triangle entry garden
And spiritually ready
   * study Sister Julie Beck's talk ("What is Your Mission" )
     * recommit to daily personal scriptures, as well as family reading
     * kneel down and pray morning and night
Keeping in mind Eldest's reminder about balance, my number one goal is to keep hopeful and kind and not let these goals get in the way of living faithfully and lovingly.
I needed a hill to climb.  Looking forward to what I'll find on the other side.

I love you all!

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