A Christmas Miracle. Really. And a few other thoughts...

Jake left at six this morning hoping to make it to Santa Rosa, NM for the night. Tomorrow morning, he's driving to Dallas to pick Cora, Magnolia, and me up from the airport tomorrow night. Then we'll drive approximately two-and-a-half hours to Holdenville, OK and be set.

We scored some amazing airfare to Oklahoma for the holidays. $41/person one-way. We gobbled them up, hoping we would find something even half as lucky for the return flight. We never did, and as we are living the lives of poor grad students, we made other arrangements. Jake gave up his $41 ticket to drive ahead so we would have a ride from Dallas, but most importantly a car to drive home in because renting a car would have been just about the same price as return flights. Renting a car and return flights were both beyond our budget.

Jake let me know he was in Santa Rosa, and it prompted me to go ahead and check-in for our flights tomorrow evening. Our confirmation code wasn't working. Odd. Jake and I both did some digging, then he called me and said, "We are in trouble."

Our flights were for today, Tuesday, December 15th. Not Wednesday, December 16th like we'd been planning on since we booked our flight. We messed up. Not only were they for today, the plane left L.A. at 6:05 PM, Jake and I were figuring all of this out at 8 PM.

My heart sank. And I wanted to throw up a little. Jake was half way across half of the country WITH the car seats (LAX is an easy bus ride from our apartment, and not having to lug two car seats and two girls around on a bus seemed pretty perfect to me) and we'd unknowingly missed our flight. Before I let total panic set in, even if I kind of wanted to throw up, I promptly called Southwest. And then they called me back in 13 minutes because they have that great feature where you don't have to waste away waiting to get ahold of someone.

Enter Toa - the best customer service rep ever. The going rate for the flight we thought we booked in the first place was $217. I explained our situation, and she got to work. And worked and worked and worked. At one point, she said, "I'm still seeing what I can do."

I responded, "You keep at it, I'm just over here praying for a Christmas miracle."

$41 was an impossible mark, especially when there were only 6 seats left on the flight (but for real, the fact that there were any seats...Hallelujah!), but she did manage to make the difference between what we originally paid a mere $48/ticket. For $144 we averted what could have been such a sad, sad situation. $144 was so much better than the $500+ it would have cost otherwise. But if you're still wondering what to get me for Christmas...I love putting money in my bank account. ;)

Phew. I am grateful. And from here on out, I will obsessively check reservations. And then recheck them, and then have nightmares about them, and then wake up from said-nightmares to confirm again.

And a few other thoughts....

At 7:10 this morning, I received a recorded message from the principal of my girls' school saying that school was cancelled, and that all LAUSD schools were closed because of a threat. I had several initial reactions all at once, though the one that likely edged out the others by a millisecond was that I was no longer going to have a day by myself to do last minute prep before we left for Oklahoma [TOMORROW!]. In the middle of that thought, I wondered what kind of threat would have to have been made to elicit a response that would affect SO MANY people.

I'm not going to try and say this was an overreaction; in hindsight, all things are much clearer. It just makes me sad that what turned out to be a "hoax" had real consequences for SO MANY people. I haven't said anything to my girls about what actually happened. Cora kept asking me to look up why the schools were closed. I ended up saying that they just wanted to make sure everything was going well/working right at all of the schools, so they were sending people through every single school to make sure everything was all right. It wasn't a total lie, but it wasn't the whole truth either. I've been rehearsing what I'm going to tell them tomorrow morning. I know it will be the talk of the school, and I don't want them (especially Cora) to feel uninformed. But what I really don't want is for her to be afraid to go to school. That part breaks my heart.

I was never afraid to go to school, I never even thought about the possibility of being afraid to go to school until Columbine happened. I was in 8th grade. And I remember what it was like when people would call in bomb threats in the days, weeks, and months after the shooting. These "hoaxes" sent us out to the curb until we were given the all-clear to go back in. And then we did lock-down drills where we huddled in a corner of our classroom incase there was a shooter on campus. Even then, I was never really afraid of anything happening, but I now knew there was a possibility that something could.

For as much as I work really hard at seeing the good in humanity as a whole (most of the time it's really easy), situations like the one that happened today force me to remember that, while in the minority, there are still really effed-up people whose actions affect SO MANY - All families that reside in LAUSD. Me. Two girls named Cora and Magnolia. And today's action was just a "hoax." I'm glad that precautions were taken and relieved that nothing was found. I hope that something comes of this day of an "abundance of caution" in that I hope they'll be able to trace this threat back to a person sitting behind a screen, and that that person will face consequences for his/her actions.

With that being said, here's how we spent our day off together.

I'm sure fear mongering can cause cheap thrills, but love lasts forever. And love is way more fun.  

#FearLess #LoveMore

Now Let Me be [...]

Don't surrender your loneliness
So quickly.
Let it cut more deeply.
Let it ferment and season you
As few humans
Or even divine ingredients can.
Something missing in my heart tonight
Has made my eyes so soft,
My voice
So tender,
My need for God
- Hafiz
Several years ago, I was watching a documentary on PBS called The Buddha. Part of the film discussed meditation, and it made so much sense to me that it continues to transform the way I think as well as the way I react in certain situations. Specifically, one of the monks talked about meditation as an avenue for really experiencing emotions. He said, "Meditation isn't about getting rid of anger, getting rid of lust, or getting rid of jealousy. What most happens in our ordinary life is whenever we experience these emotions, we get stuck into it. It starts twisting us, but [meditation] is going through inside it and getting out of it peacefully. And I think that gives us more joy. That makes human life more full, more round. We're not living a partial truth, but it's like the whole of things together."

I've worked more and more at practicing this in meditation. If I am angry, if I am sad, if I am joyful, I try to give myself time and space to feel the whole of these emotions. I'm still learning, but I've found it to be helpful in how I react in certain situations. If I understand where and how my anger happens, and have practiced going through it and coming out of it, it changes my interactions with whatever has triggered it. I think we too often try to slough unpleasant emotions. They don't feel good. But not allowing ourselves to experience them comes to seem more and more like a disservice to our fullness - our wholeness.

Life is just sad sometimes. By allowing ourselves to experience all of the nuances of emotion, by going through them, we can help keep ourselves from being swallowed up by them.

I recently made a connection between this type of meditation and Jesus's suffering in Gethsemane. A commonly held belief of Christ's suffering is that during the atonement, Christ was suffering for all of the sins of humanity. He was experiencing all that we would ever feel, feeling the weight of every sin we would commit. As he left his disciples to go pray in the garden, he began to be sorrowful and very heavy.

His soul was heavy.

That's what grief feels like. He experienced all that we would because he took the time, in all of its unpleasantness, to go through it and get to the other side. It was agonizing. He asked, "If it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt." And as he passed through the sorrow, both of that night and in the days to come, redemption was on the other side.

The work of going through something and coming peacefully out of it leads to its own kind of redemption. The more we are able to go through emotion, the more we learn to trust ourselves and the belief that it will all work out. 

I'm finding more peace in this on my faith journey. I've been angry, sad, and confused at why I didn't feel right in the Mormon church. I spent years trying to dismiss those emotions: I just needed to work harder, and I would be happy - "If I could just figure out what I'm doing wrong, I'd gladly fix it, and then I won't be so conflicted." When I finally started allowing myself to process, without the weight of arriving at one specific answer, I started feeling peace. Realizing that my spirituality wasn't contingent on Mormonism was a huge relief. Understanding that God and truth and love and eternity don't hinge on one church was also a huge relief. The realization wouldn't have come if I would have kept trying to sweep my emotions under the rug. Rainer Maria Rilke said:
Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without noticing it, live your way into the answer. 
While there is still a part of me (a pretty big part of me) that holds out hope that Mormonism will be a choice I make someday, I am at peace with the path I'm on. I'm growing and changing. I'm living the questions and finding answers all at the same time right now. My meditation often takes the form of prayer, and one that I utter often is this: Dear God, I don't know where I'll end up. But I know you're the way.    

One final thought on going through emotions: I keep a private blog, and I posted this poem there in March, but I feel like it belongs with this post. It's called Now Let Me be Sad by Emma Lou Thayne. (Thayne also wrote the words to one of my favorite hymns, Where Can I Turn for Peace?)

Now let me feel sad. Impulse, trained in gladness,
Do not try to whisk me away from grief
Like a child caught sulking in a corner
Immobilized by imagined hurt.

Instead, let me grow rich with my sadness.
Let it mellow and strengthen my joy,
Take bold hold of my will,
Give tears permission to water the parch of loss.

Let its music ripple my spine,
Let me give ardent ear,
To what was, to what never will be.
Grief, be my companion in joy.

In the numberless calls acquainting me with the Night,
Bring me to my senses, numberless too
In abandoning numbness and the faint iridescence
Of busyness, crowds, brief entertainments.

Like walking into a sea, only in depth can I float,
Depth, too often feared for its power,
To raise me footloose and struggling
Is all that can gentle me back to the shore:

Safe, breathing in the cosmos of the sweet unknown
Full of the light of having been sad.

Here and There

I just sneezed, and all of the tissues that were sitting on my chest flew elsewhere. 

We've been sick around here. Today is the first day I'm admitting it. For myself anyway. The trash can in my bathroom is overflowing with tissues, but I don't really feel like emptying it. It's an insult to the injury of the common cold. 

I officially have three days in the books of being gluten-free. Migraines have been back with a vengeance in the last month or so. I started getting 2-3 per week again, which was similar to the frequency with which they were coming shortly after we moved to Los Angeles. Last fall, I started following the "Healing Psoriasis" diet, and, for a time, I cut out gluten as well. I was obviously eliminating a lot of things, but gluten seemed to have the most effect on migraine frequency - that's with already knowing that my biggest migraine trigger is lack of adequate sleep. I feel like my sleep has been sufficient lately, so now I'm singling out gluten specifically this time to see if it's related.

One of the classes I help teach at work is a reading class for students who aren't quite ready to move into college level English classes. The reading levels range from 2nd grade to around 8th grade. I love these students. Today they took a reading assessment exam as part of what will determinewhat English class they will be in next semester. 

One of my students in a stroke survivor. He already has a degree, and was very much at the top of his game in his career when, at 31, a massive stroke changed everything. He was alone when it happened, and wasn't found for three days. He spent a month in the hospital in the city where he was living before he was stable enough for his parents to move him to California. He spent the next year learning to walk and speak again. He has been in various types of therapy in the 5 years since his stroke and is taking the reading class at the recommendation of his speech pathologist.

When I handed him the reading assessment exam, he looked at me, and uttered a few words that let me know he'd like for me to read it with him. We went into the conference room attached to our classroom space, and I read the article and each question of the test.

I've loved spending this semester with him for two reasons in particular.

1. It is endlessly fascinating witnessing how his mind reconstructs language that was lost. Little things like association - the word of the page is "mountain," but he says "hill." Sometimes I look at him and know that the words are all there, other times, I know we're creating meaning on a blank slate. The mind is amazing. His mind has shown me just how much it is.

2. His sheer determination. I can't imagine what it would be like to have such a big before and after event. To still be "me," but not have the same ability to express that in the world. Be it through language, or movement, or possessions, or any number of things. He lived in New York, and he owned a beach house in La Jolla. He was a merchandise planner for a major international retailer. After the stroke, those things weren't part of him anymore. But who he was to work for those things still is. He was athletic and now he has to work diligently to get one side of his body to move. Words used to just come, and now he not only has to think to make each sound he utters, but also sift through a vastly reduced vocabulary for the right words. He doesn't need to be coming to a reading class at a community college, but he only knows one trajectory. Forward. It is inspiring. It is the most amazing kind of strength. 

I've been reading through the Quran. While I know bits and pieces about Islam, I find my knowledge too patchy for my liking. I thought the Quran would be a good start. Right away, I wished I knew Arabic so I could read the original text. I'm not very far in, but I'm already surprised by how many stories I know. Common ground.

I must go to bed now. My brain and my eyes and my sinuses have had enough. 

More Thoughts on the Most Recent Policy Update from the Mormon Church

Last night, Mormon Newsroom released a video interview with D. Todd Christofferson to help clarify the what and why of the policy update. You can find the video here.

I think the "what" of the policy update was already pretty clear; I can read, and they didn't mince their words. With the what taken care of, the "why" was left. The official why came in two parts, and neither were surprises. The first why was for clarification:
With the Supreme Court's decision in the United States there was a need for a distinction to be made between what may be legal and what may be the law of the church and the law of the lord and how we respond to that. So it's a matter of being clear, a matter of understanding right and wrong, a matter of firm policy that doesn't allow for question or doubt.
Boom. No question or doubt. [They actually said it.] In the LDS Church, acting on the urges of same-gender attraction is a serious transgression that is grouped among sins like attempted murder, forcible rape, sexual abuse, spouse abuse, intentional serious physical injury of others, adultery, and fornication. Got it. [See, they didn't mince their words.] The second why, as it relates to why children of same-sex couples were included in the policy update:
This policy originates out of [...] compassion. It originates from a desire to protect children in their innocence, in their minority years. 
Here are some examples he gives to help clarify how the policy protects these children.
When, for example, there is a formal blessing and naming of a child in the church, which happens when the child has parents who are members of the church, it triggers a lot of things. First, a membership record for them, it triggers the assignment of visiting and home teachers, it triggers an expectation they will be in primary and the other church organizations, and that is likely not going to be an appropriate thing in the home setting, in the family setting, where they're living as children where their parents are a same-sex couple. We don't want there to be the conflicts that that would engender. We don't want the child to have to deal with issues that might arise where the parents feel one way and the expectations of the church are very different. And so with the other ordinances on through baptism and so on. There's time for that if, when a child reaches majority, he or she feels like that's what they want, and they can make an informed, conscious decision about that, nothing is lost to them in the end if that's the direction they want to go. In the meantime, they're not placed in a position where there will be difficulties, challenges, conflicts that can injure their development in very tender years. 
I doubt a church would ever do something they really felt was punishing children, and I agree with part of what he said. It is difficult for a child to hear something at church and see their family doing something that conflicts with it. It's confusing, and it does put the child in a hard spot. BUT! If they're going to start painting swaths intended to protect children, it's unfair to focus on such a small, specific group.

If the intent is to make it easier for a child in his/her home and family life, then the minority group of same-gender parent families should not be the main target. Children who have been abused, heterosexual couples who violently argue, a parent who's committed adultery, those who have political persuasions that sometimes conflict with the teachings of the church, children born out of wedlock, etc.. My list could be a mile long of all the things that would make a home and family life one that is in conflict with the teachings of the church. Why aren't we protecting those children in this manner, too? Does the child of a murderer need to disavow her parent's act before she can be baptized or serve a mission? Does a child born to an unwed mother need to say, "What my parents did is wrong," before he can be baptized or serve a mission? How many times have children who are being abused been baptized and grown up in the church while living in difficult homes. The answer: it happens all the time. Where is the same protection and mercy for these children?

The way in which compassion is used here makes it seem like only children who come from traditional families with idyllic home environments that create zones for optimal growth in the church should be considered for baptism. If children have to face any conflict between their home life and the church, they should be excluded from baptism until they are adults to make sure no unnecessary injury is done to them in their very tender years. Wouldn't it be great if that could be the case?

Who cares if the same-sex parents are loving and completely supportive and caring, and everything about them, except for the way they have sex with one another, could be conducive to coming close to Christ? We've singled them out. We're saying those loving parents aren't doing it right - that their children will carry a burden far greater than those who are living with abusive parents.

Newsflash: There aren't perfect conditions. Part of navigating conflict is what can lead to immense growth. If the biggest sin of any particular set of same-sex parents is that they have sex with the person they love, then they are WAY ahead of me.

A few random thoughts:
An expectation is not a guarantee. Christofferson said that when a baby is blessed, it triggers a whole host of things, including the expectation that children will be in primary and other church organizations, and that likely isn't appropriate in a home with same-sex parents. There is no guarantee that any baby who is blessed will make it through to primary and other church organizations. Should we hold off on giving all children blessings until they've proven that they (and their parents) can meet that expectation? And...if the church says that children of gay parents, and the gay parents themselves, are still welcome to come to services and activities, yet Christofferson implies that coming to primary and church activities would be the catalyst for the conflict the child feels when they see that what the church says doesn't match their family life, what are we really saying?

I know many members of the LDS Church who support same-sex marriage, myself included. Fairness would be asking all of us to "disavow the practice of same-gender cohabitation and marriage" for us to be able to continue on with our callings and work in the church, not just the children of same-sex parents.

Thoughts on the Most Recent Policy Update from the Mormon Church

To those of you who have separated themselves from the church, I say, my dear friends, there is yet a place for you here. Come and add your talents, gifts, and energies to ours. We will all become better as a result [...] Your background or upbringing might seem different from what you perceive in many Latter-day Saints, but that could be a blessing. Brothers and sisters, dear friends, we need your unique talents and perspectives. The diversity of persons and peoples all around the globe is a strength of this church. -Dieter F. Uchtdorf, October 2013
Yesterday, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released updated policies to help clarify points for local church leaders. The updates having to do with homosexuality are as follows:

A natural or adopted child of a parent living in a same-gender relationship, whether the couple is married or cohabiting, may not receive a name and a blessing. 

A natural or adopted child of a parent living in a same-gender relationship, whether the couple is married or cohabiting, may be baptized and confirmed, ordained, or recommended for missionary service only as follows: A mission president or a stake president may request approval from the Office of the First Presidency to baptize and confirm, ordain, or recommend missionary service for a child of a parent who has lived or is living in a same-gender relationship when he is satisfied by personal interviews that both of the following requirements are met: 

1. The child accepts and is committed to live the teachings and doctrine of the Church, and specifically disavows the practice of same-gender cohabitation and marriage. 

2. The child is of legal age and does not live with a parent who has lived or currently lives in a same-gender cohabitation relationship or marriage.

Serious Transgression (addendum in italics)

. . . It includes (but is not limited to) attempted murder, forcible rape, sexual abuse, spouse abuse, intentional serious physical injury of others, adultery, fornication, homosexual relations (especially sexual cohabitation), deliberate abandonment of family responsibilities, . . .

When a Disciplinary Council is Mandatory (addendum in italics)


As used here, apostasy refers to members who: 

1. Repeatedly act in clear, open, and deliberate public opposition to the Church or its leaders. 

2. Persist in teaching as Church doctrine information that is not Church doctrine after they have been corrected by their bishop or a higher authority. 

3. Continue to follow the teachings of apostate sects (such as those that advocate plural marriage) after being corrected by their bishop or a higher authority. 

4. Are in a same-gender marriage. 

5. Formally join another church and advocate its teachings.

From what I've seen on multiple news outlets, blog posts, and comment forums, people have been most concerned with the fact that children are seemingly being punished for the sins of their parents by not being allowed to be baptized in the church until they are at least 18. Many people have said that the church taking this stance is actually merciful for the children - it will save them hurt and anguish and the confusion that comes from belonging to a church that has different teachings from what they are learning in their homes. This stance, I feel, assumes the perspective that homosexual parents who are "cohabiting" are living in sin. The latter part is not my perspective. 

There are two parts of the policy update that especially startle me - that have left me feeling sick since I heard the news. 

1. The first is in regard to children of gay parents who might attend LDS services. While the church maintains that all are welcome, even gay people, and the children of gay people can attend services and activities, I feel that would do far more damage than good. It feels like speaking out of both sides of one's mouth. Essentially, the church is saying that those children and their families are less than. "Here, come do everything with us, but because of your family, your parents in particular, you cannot join with us. You are different from us. Your family is not the kind of family we welcome here." I personally know what it feels like to feel less than in the church. I was raised by a single mother who didn't attend church for most of my childhood. [This isn't a knock to her - she has made her peace with and is now a faithful member of the church.] I can't tell you how many times I was asked where my father was, and told that kids should have moms and dads. It did something to me. My mom married when I was twelve, and somehow it magically made me feel like we were a real family in the eyes of the church. But I wish I would have had the perspective to feel like we were a real, whole, complete family just the way we were. Every kid deserves that. And every parent deserves that kind of support. Every family, regardless of what they look like, deserves that kind of support. Always. No matter what. 

Dear Parents and Children and Families who don't fit the mold of a traditional family: You are important and valuable and loved. I love you. Knowing you weren't fully welcome in the LDS church is part of why I'm taking a break. You and your good efforts deserve more than that. You and your love and care for one another deserve more than that. 

2. In order for children of gay parents to be baptized, serve missions,  and/or be ordained, they must disavow the practice of same-gender cohabitation and marriage, and not be living with a parent who has lived or currently lives in a same-gender cohabitation relationship or marriage. 

This is where my heart hurts for children and parents who are already LDS. There are gay parents who are supportive of their LDS children's involvement in the church. Just today I read about an LDS father who came out 5 years ago. His daughter is preparing to be married in the temple in a couple of months, and his son is almost 18 and hoping to serve a mission soon. Both of his children either live or have lived with him since he came out. He loves and supports his children. I can't imagine the heartbreak it would cause this family, both for the father to be disavowed, and for the children to face the choice of disavowing the parent they love or living faithfully in the church they've been committed to. There are children of parents who have divorced but share equal custody of their children - one parent living in a heterosexual marriage, the other in a homosexual marriage. What about those kids? I know that disavow doesn't mean stop loving, but it does put a condition on loving completely. Children shouldn't have to say that their parents' love for one another is less than because both are of the same gender.

I could go on and on, like how ridiculous it feels that a child of gay parents cannot receive a name and a blessing in the church - a tradition in the LDS faith that essentially puts the child on the records of the church, even though they are not officially members until they are baptized. Why? 

This policy update put me on anxiety overload. I went to bed with a racing heart, and I woke up with one. I cried all the way through my meditation this morning, and lifted myself into a yoga pose I'd never done before with all of the extra energy running through my body. This policy update, and the anxiety associated with it, reminded me why I'm taking a break. I get so bogged down and spend so much energy trying to combat the heaviness of some of the stances the church takes that I don't have enough energy to pour into love. Loving others, loving myself, loving the church. 

One of my co-workers is also Mormon. We recognized this in one another within the first few days. As we were talking about it, another co-worker said, "You two are both Mormon?!" She said, "Yes," and I, still trying to find a way to comfortably describe my current relationship with the church, said, "Yes, but I'm taking a break." A few more conversation points went back and forth in our little group, and my Mormon co-worker said, "I love the church." Those words dealt me some weird little blow that was coupled with an instant revelation. You see, I, too, love the church. Deeply. But I know love and hate run on close, parallel tracks. And I could feel my love being overshadowed by anger, hurt, frustration, exhaustion, and despair. I didn't want my love to turn into hate and bitterness. The church, this faith tradition of my family, means too much to me. But there is great sorrow at the way its policies repeatedly forget to love everyone - forget to reflect the words of love we share. I wish Dieter's words were true in every sense. I wish that there was yet a place for all in the church. 

(This photo was taken last year on my pilgrimage to Salt Lake City, UT. I felt the weight of my temple recommend's expiration date, and, knowing that I would likely not renew it, I felt a sense of urgency to go to the SLC temple, one I hadn't been through before, while I still had a slip of paper that said I was worthy. I went to an endowment session with my cousin Kiersty. I will never forget that trip for the company, the surroundings, and the mounting courage I felt that would eventually help me do a really hard thing.)

Dia de Los Muertos

I've spent hours looking through old photos today. Reading obituaries, searching for people via the Internet and social media sites. I rarely talk about this, but it's something that's been important to me for as long as I can remember. I met my biological father when I was 14, and he remains the only person on his side of the family that I've met. Because I grew up close to my mom's side of the family, I never felt like I was going without familial relationships, but I also really wanted to know about this whole other half of me. A lineage that I belong to. A cloth from which I'm cut. 

10 years ago, my biological father sent me about 20 photos, along with stories about several ancestors. I treasure them. And today I've reveled in them.

My great-uncle, Jimmy Lige Lewis, on the family ranch in Texas.

My great-great grandfather, Sanford Joe Pearson, holding Jimmy Lige.

My great-great grandfather, Eligah Roy "Lige" Lewis holding his grandson, Jimmy Lige Lewis

My grandmother and her siblings.
L-R: Kathrine Jo Lewis (g-ma), Roy Elmo "Lucky" Lewis, Jr., Jimmy Lige Lewis, Margaret Ann Lewis

Another photo of the Lewis siblings.

My great-grandparents on the right. Margaret Louise Pearson and Roy Elmo Lewis.

Great-grandmother, Margaret Louise Pearson, aka Margie Lou.

Great-great grandparents in front seat. Minnie Ola Brown and Sanford Joe Pearson

Great-grandfather, Roy Elmo Lewis

A bunch of people I'm related to who I've never met. :) My great-grandmother is standing front and center. The first time I saw this, my heart skipped a beat; she's short like me! My father is in the back row on the far right, with his wife, Debra standing in front of him.


Pilgrimage happens when you're not moving.
You learn when you are unlearning.
Revelation comes in gulps that leave you gasping,
But sometimes it seems to come in the slow accumulation of small insights that you hardly know have happened,
In chance encounters and odd surprises,
In little glimpses of what you did not go to see and did not know was there.
-Paul-Gordon Chandler

Reflections on General Conference - October 2015

A quick note: "General Conference" is held twice a year in the Mormon Church. It takes place at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City, right across the street from Temple Square. There are 6 sessions: A Women's Meeting held the week prior to conference, then two 2-hour general sessions, and one 2-hour Priesthood session held on Saturday, and two 2-hour general sessions on Sunday. Church leaders speak to the church as a whole, and if one is unable to be in Utah at the Conference Center, it's nearly impossible to miss out as all sessions are transmitted via radio, satellite, and live stream on the internet to most places around the world.  

I'm certain I will add to this after I read through transcripts of the talks, and after I've had time for more reflection, but I wanted to get started with initial thoughts on what I heard this weekend. 

There were three talks that I absolutely, hands-down loved this time. There were plenty of others from which I gained something, but I felt especially connected to these three.

1. Neill F. Marriott
There were about three times throughout her talk, as well as just after, when I uttered to myself, "She gets it." Her talk was poignant and honest. Vulnerable and far reaching. 

I felt especially connected to her words as I have recently been pondering the effects of the very real and difficult act of coming before God with a broken heart. Completely broken and knowing there is only one way for it to be healed.

Here are some highlights with brief interjections:
Transformation begins with a change of heart:
Have thine own way, Lord!Have thine own way!Thou art the Potter, and I am the clay.Mold me and make me after Thy will,While I am waiting, yielded and still. 
As our trust in him grows, we open our hearts and seek to do his will...and wait for answers that will help us understand.  
I've been focusing a lot on mindfulness, meditation, being still. I need those moments where my mind is clear. There's so much information all the time. So many distractions. But when I take even a few minutes to open my mind and heart to God, I am always filled - even with just a little something.
My own change of heart happened at 12 years old.
I also had my first big personal spiritual experience at 12. I was alone in the woods, praying, desiring to know who God was. What resulted felt like a conversation. A deeply powerful conversation where I knew that I was heard, known, and understood. It changed me.
Family motto: It will all work out.It doesn't mean it will all work out now, but it gives hope in an eternal outcome.
Things, both positive and negative, can work together for good.
A meek heart accepts the trial and waits for that time of healing and wholeness to come.
Paradoxically, in order to have a healed and faithful heart, we must first allow it to break before the Lord.
In the last couple of years of my struggle with Mormonism, I can't tell you how many times I've prayed for a humble heart. I'd be sitting in church, on the verge of tears, praying with all my might, Please help me to have a humble heart. Please help me to have a humble heart. PLEASE help me to have a humble heart. I felt inspired to say that prayer. And each time I did, I had a very distinct prompting. But I didn't want it to be the answer. I wanted so desperately to feel okay within Mormonism, that it took over a year to finally listen to that prompting. Answers to our most earnest prayers can be so far from what we desire. The answer was that I needed a break. And when I finally decided to take one, a huge burden was almost instantly lifted from me.
Our self-willed hearts begin to crack and break in gratitude.
In our broken-hearted reaching and yoking [with Christ], we receive new hope...
I can't begin to tell you how heart-breaking it was that my answer was what it was. And, at times, still is. But I have been learning and growing so much, and I know that finally listening to the answer was one of the most humbling experiences of my life. That's right, I found humility in leaving, not staying. And I work hard at remaining humble, waiting to see when the answer might be to return. But it's still "Not yet." And I know that that is right.
So trusting my all to thy tender care,and knowing thou lovest me.I'll do thy will with a heart sincere:I'll be what you want me to be.
2. D. Todd Christofferson
He spoke on why church matters. (He spoke specifically about the Mormon church, but my personal experience causes me to extend his words to all faith promoting churches.)
A major reason for church is to create a community of people who will sustain one another...the members minister to one another in the realities of day-to-day life.
I've missed having a faith community. Before my break from Mormonism, I'd been a regular church attender. And not just to my own Mormon congregation. While living in Oklahoma City, I went to several other local churches, spending the most time at the Unitarian church right down the street from Dot Spot (our home in OKC). Church matters to me. Faith communities matter to me. Whether they're big or small. We attended a handful of churches in Los Angeles, and I loved seeing their dynamics, how they worked. How they supported and lifted one another. We've been attending the same one for two months now. Today was actually the first day we missed since we started going because we stayed home to watch General Conference. Ironic, right?! Churches have the potential to do amazing things, both big and small.
Converted unto Christ. United in [a] church. 
Yes!! We're not converted to a church, but to the gospel. The gospel and the/[a] church are not the same thing. Being united in a church helps with sustaining and ministering unto one another, but being converted to God doesn't require a specific church.

3. Thomas S. Monson
This talk painted a lovely picture of discipleship.
As we emulate [Christ's] example, we will bless lives, including our own.
There is no transformation more powerful than the one that occurs as we live intentionally on the path of discipleship. Sometimes there are sudden transformations, but most of them take time. Some, lifetimes. Our work is never done.
Trust in the Lord and in his word. That trust will influence all we do.
Yes. And it is powerful to both experience and witness this in the lives of others.
Fears will be replaced by the courage of our convictions. 
I've been working at replacing fear with love. Love is my conviction.
[A note unrelated to his message: Starting around minute eleven of a thirty-and-a-half minute talk, it became very difficult to watch Thomas Monson. He sank lower and lower at the podium, and I kept hoping someone was right there to catch him if he fell. I started praying for him. By the time minute thirteen rolled around, I was crying, not because of what he was saying, but for him. His speech was slurred, his lips lost their color. I was relieved when I saw the shadow of two men come to assist him after he said "Amen." In addition to the sadness I felt seeing him decline through the course of his talk, I was also filled with gratitude for his servant heart.]

If the Super Blood Moon really did mean the world was ending

I can see a faint reflection of myself in the mirror leaning against a wall a few feet from me. My room is lit softly from the glow of my phone and the glow of the moon making its way out of total eclipse. I am sitting here in my underwear between my bed and the window, eating jalapeño chips, staring up at the sky and watching our collective shadow fade. There you are in Oklahoma. And New York and Tennessee and Italy and Kansas and Arizona and Vietnam. I see us all as we're sailing through this galaxy together, making a pass between the sun and our moon.

If tonight would have marked the end of the world, as some believe might happen during an event such as this, I think I'd be okay with it. I passed thousands of people spread out on lawns, standing on street corners, climbing hills, set, perched, poised, all looking up. Just like me. There are times when I am so in-love with humanity. This is one of those times. If it all has to come to an end, please let it be on a night like this. When we're all seeking and sharing what is so much bigger than us. When we're all looking up together.

[Photo Credit: Michael Anderson, owner of Performing Arts Photography in Oklahoma]

Soaking up the Last Day of Summer: A Series

I went to the beach to soak up as much of the last day of summer as possible. It was lovely.

Then this bird came along and was like, I'll show you a proper soaking up the last day of summer selfie.

As I was taking notes, he suddenly said, "Nah, we can do even better. I can fly." He took off at the perfect moment and, without saying goodbye, flew over my towards Malibu.  

So long, Summer Friend.

Day 413 in Los Angeles: A Year and Some Change

It came and went with little fanfare. It was a day when I was thinking of other things: the birthday of my brother and a sweet friend, the day after my parents' anniversary, which happened to be the day I called to wish them a happy 18 years. August 3rd marked one year of living in this new city. One year, and so much has changed. I've been writing this post in my head for a while (I've been writing many posts in my head for a while).

Just like the day that marked one year in Los Angeles went mostly unnoticed, so did the day several months ago where I finally found a soft spot for this place that is my current home. It went something like this: I was driving somewhere solo with my windows down, and the thought popped into my head, "I live in L.A.." And then it got louder: "I LIVE IN L.A.!!" And then I said it, "I live in Los Angeles." And then it exploded. I GET TO LIVE IN L.A.!!!" I do. And I don't want to just bide my time surviving here. I want to live here. I want to thrive here. This change in perspective was so good. (I think I'd lived here for almost 6 months when it happened.) That's right, I finally like Los Angeles. I might go so far to say I love Los Angeles.
(Tonight's Sunset)

I catch myself, at times, wondering if I allow myself to love it because I know that I will more than likely be leaving it in a couple of years. If I live in this city, I might as well make the most of my time here. And let's be clear, it's not all butterflies and candy hearts and roses. One of the hardest things was the decision Jake and I made to take a break from the Mormon church for a while. We did so at the end of October. I'd initially planned on a 6 month break. It's been 11 months. Moving somewhere and taking away the built-in community was really hard. I've just written and deleted many sentences about the last 11 months, but I don't want to spend any more time on that here. There were so many challenges when I first came, even some traumas that I'm still working through, but I'm making it.  I think I've met my match in this place in terms of keeping it real.

Ways L.A. keeps it real:

It is so crazy stupid expensive. Like ridiculously stupidly out of this world expensive. I would live in an apartment (and one that is likely without charm) for the rest of my life if I lived here expensive. Bleepin' bleep expensive. Like my sweet Dot would be WAY over a million dollars here, probably pushing two million dollars. This little fact blows my mind. I refuse to think this kind of expensive is normal. Or healthy. L.A. knows how to keep a budget real.

This is a city where people come and try to prove something. One of those somethings is that they can make it here. And even with how expensive it is, it is possible to build a pretty sweet life here, but many don't. They realize they could have built a pretty sweet life where they were from. They realize they didn't have anything to prove from the start. They leave. Everyday, people are coming and going in droves. It keeps things interesting, but it also makes for quite the transient population. Yes, I feel slightly guilty for contributing to that. But I'm also trying my best to really be part of the community. To feel a local connection. Make a new friend. Awesome! But they'll likely be gone in six months to a year. L.A. is good at keeping one from getting too comfortable.

L.A. (along with much of California) is drying up. This isn't the city's fault. But it's a reality that is impossible to ignore. It's sad and hard, and it makes it seem so inefficient and irresponsible to be living in a city that can't sustain itself. It's too big. The population is too taxing. It makes me want to head for the hills (not the Hollywood hills), and work hard to create my own little bubble of sustainability. L.A. Is good at reminding me that no matter how much I want something, my part is so small, that I must rely, on good faith, on others to do their part as well. L.A. has been the place where I've finally started taking shorter showers.

I'm still navigating. Still working out my place. But I finally feel like I have a place. My own little spot. My own little space of being.  Here are some things I love:

Driving in L.A.
Yes! It's true. I hate the traffic, but I love driving here!! There's a sort of vigilante nature to it. It's a puzzle. It has a rhythm. People are, for the most part, better drivers here than anywhere else I've been. What I'm about to say will blow you away: they're more courteous too! Yes, there are people are do really stupid things. But for the most part, it feels like a "we're all in this together" type event. People let you in, they make room if you need to turn left, it's great!! But it's different. I understand why they have a bad rap. If you don't drive here, it seems very foreign. But it's a good system. And it works.

Our Apartment
Every single day I think of something I can't wait to have when we move away from our apartment. For example: a bigger kitchen, hardwood floors, high ceilings, a REALLY BIG kitchen, a bedroom that's bigger than 90 square feet, absolutely NO honey oak cabinets, and hot dang, if I ever see a mauve counter top again... Basically, I hate our kitchen. And I don't think hate is a strong enough word. But our apartment has grown on me. I can see Mount Baldy and the sky scrapers of Century City. The street in front of our apartment is lined with Magnolia trees. It really is lovely. We could have had an apartment that faced the parking lot, or another apartment, or even worse, the 405 Freeway. But we don't. I have officially decided that we live in the best building in our complex and have the best view. I occasionally long for a three-bedroom, but I would have to give up my view, and I don't really want to. AND! I feel like I'm sticking it to the city because our apartment is below market value because it's part of UCLA's grad housing. Win/win, even if Jake has had to tell me why I can't redo our kitchen more than once. I would really be doing UCLA housing a favor. Dear Oak: I am so sorry we ever put you through the "honey" and "golden" phase. You didn't deserve it. Nobody deserves it.

(Master Builders at the kitchen table)

The Ocean
If I could spend every single day of my life at the beach, I would. I love it. It is perfect and peaceful, and I'm able to get lost there. I love being there with my family. I love being alone there. I love that I'm so close. 3.5 miles. Because I know we will likely not end up in L.A., I tried really hard not to get too attached. I failed miserably. Everyone needs an ocean to help them feel small and big all at the same time.

The Moon
I have the moon everywhere I go, and L.A. is no exception (obviously), but because the city is so bright, and there's so much going on, seeing the moon peek from behind a building, or rise above the trees - I stop and dwell on it more. When I was a teenager, I made it a point to spend some time with the moon every night. I thought it was magical. I don't spend every night gazing up, but when I do here, it makes me feel more connected to everyone I love. It's still magical, and here it's become even more sacred.

The City
L.A is a big mismatched mess to my aesthetics. There are pockets that are pleasing like Hancock Park and parts of Hollywood, streets of bungalows in Pasadena, little strips of historic "downtowns," etc. But when I'm not in those places it feels like row after row after row of strip malls. But there are so many great places to stumble upon. I love the shops on Abbott Kinney, the twinkle lights on Main in Santa Monica. I recently visited Olvera Street for the first time, and it was fantastic. I was excited about the museums, and they are wonderful and contain amazing collections, but I prefer the museums in Chicago to the museums in Los Angeles by quite a bit. The Museum of Science and Industry blows the California Science Center out of the water. LACMA and The Getty haven't stolen my heart like the Art Institute. There are fun places to explore, but L.A. is not my favorite large U.S. city. There is something disjointed about it, but that is part of what it is, and I've been learning to accept L.A. for just that. I no longer compare it. I no longer spend ridiculous amounts of time thinking about where I'd rather be. I'm here. And here in SoCal with its laid-back vibe is exactly where I need to be.
(Union Station, Los Angeles)

When I was a little girl, I always wanted to live in California. I was jealous of my cousins who lived here. When I started my senior year in high school, I was certain I wanted to go to UCLA (or Stanford or Sarah Lawrence, or NYU - but UCLA was at the top of my list). Now I'm here, and not attending UCLA, but I'm in this place in which the little girl who used to reside in me built a dream life. Jake and I are currently making a bucket list to make sure we see so many of the things we're so close to for the next couple of years.

I've been able to do some amazing things this year. I've been with dearest friends as they've become mothers. I was with family as we walked my grandmother from this life to the next. I've explored various faith communities. I've spent a year in mourning, grieving for a friend who took his life shortly after we moved here. I've rekindled old friendships and made new ones. I've found myself locked in a showdown with the dreaded anxiety disorder that I'd hoped I'd kicked for good. I have re-entered the workplace after 7.5 years of working at home with my children. And, oh, my precious daughters, they've taught me so much about resilience and just going with it. They're brave, and being their mother makes me brave. I'm learning and growing and being and becoming. Always becoming.

Rainy Morning

woke up to the sound of rain this morning. Before my alarm went off. And I'm pretty impressed because I was up a little too late last night watching a documentary on Walt Disney. Admittedly, I felt asleep on the couch for 15 minutes before I convinvced myself I really ought to go to bed.

Just before 6, I found myself stirring, and I couldn't make out what was happening right away. The sound of water hitting the roof. The sound didn't match the actuality of the downpour. I'm sitting backwards on my couch, recently joined by Magnolia, staring out the living room widow to the light across the street that's illuminating this healthy morning rain. Cora just came. My girls are looking all over, especially down at the street, trying to decide if it's flooding. 

Being from Arizona, praying for rain may have been the most common communal prayer I heard. Any time it does rain, I can't help but think of all of those voices rising together, having faith that the needs of their lands and lives would be met by this one event that would cover their spot of earth. The prayer in my heart is one of gratitude, rather than desire, for the rain. It's meeting a need I didn't know would be so powerful this morning. A need to rise early and sit in stillness. Although the the stillness was brief before being joined by my little family, their excitement made up for it.

Funny Sayings, and a bit of last week's happenings

One of my favorite things about daily life in my family is what my girls say as they are trying to make sense of any number of things in life. Some are very deep and lovely, and make me think and grow. And some are so funny. I returned home from Utah yesterday. I'd been gone for 6 days, the longest I've ever been away from my girls. I couldn't wait to get home! I think I cried twice while I was gone just because I missed their sweet faces and funny sayings. (And their kisses and cuddles, and every single thing about them.)

Magnolia said two super funny things today. Sadly, I can only remember one. Tonight was Food Truck night at their school. Before we left home, we were looking over the menus of the food trucks and relaying vegan options. When Magnolia wasn't satisfied with any of her options, she stormed off while exclaiming,
"Mom! Why do we always have to eat vegan stuff!?" Then she quickly turned back and declared, "I'll have the tofu sandwich!"
With the exception of desserts, she is as vegan as can be. (She did not have the "tofu sandwich," but I did, and it was a delicious báhn mì.)

This school year is off to a good start. We switched their schools the week before school started. It's a kind of long story that involves paying tuition to the private school they'd been attending or covering much-needed orthodontic care out-of-pocket that Cora is finally ready to receive. We chose orthodontic care. The good news is that they've been happy to leave for school in the morning and happy when we pick them up. I left for Utah on their third day of school. I planned the trip before they switched schools, so I was fretting not being able to talk things out with them each day. Luckily, it's been a pretty smooth transition.

First Day of school - Kindergarten and 2nd Grade

Casey and Jane had such a sweet wedding in Utah.

Wedding Shenanigans

Reading with Genevieve and Seth

AcroYoga with Jake and BrieAnn

Ever since Jake saw the photos of me doing AcroYoga for the first time at Wanderlust, he has wanted to try it with me. There was a little Acro challenge on Instagram August 1-8, and we decided to participate. Those 8 days were quite interesting! 

To forever document our efforts:

If we have souls, they're made of the love we share.

I got sucked into a mediocre Tom Cruise movie on television tonight: Oblivion. The best part was the quote I used as the title of this post.

I believe we definitely have souls. And I really like thinking they're made of the love we share. At least in part. Or maybe mostly. At any rate, it makes sense to me.

I've felt those connections. There's certainly the love I feel for all humankind. Every person I know. And most living things...I'm not all the way there on reptiles and arachnids. But there are those few, precious connections, where I know my soul was bound to another - I feel them. Their presence is palpable even when they aren't near. My soul is drawn to theirs, despite any resistance my life's experience has built up for me.

This summer has been quite the experience. I was away from home for 6 weeks and 1 day. And in that time, I was stupid sick and healed, Jake and I attended the funeral of one of his former students, Cora learned to ride a bike, both girls are officially swimmers, we spent wonderful time with family and friends, I took my girls to stay at their [great]great-great-grandmother's home, I helped walk a loved one to another life, and I was with a dear friend when she welcomed her first child to this life.

Today I want to talk about walking with a loved one to her grave. It all happened so fast. I was in Colorado with my little family and Jake's family. We were staying at our friend's cabin in Estes Park. My mom called and let me know that my paternal grandmother was in the hospital with pneumonia, and her kidneys were operating at 10%. After a biopsy of her lungs and kidneys, they determined Vasculitis was the culprit of her organ failure. She had a bit of an upswing, but then the biopsy site on her kidney started bleeding, they spent two days trying to get it to stop, and by the time they did, her kidneys and lungs were shutting down. Mix that with pneumonia and congestive heart failure. She decided that she didn't want to undergo any more treatment. On Tuesday, June 30th, my mom called and said that Verda was being released from the hospital on hospice.

(Verda with Baby Magnolia, 6 months)

I cried, and struggled with whether I should stay with my family or go be with her in her final days. The moment it set in that she was still alive, and I could see her, and hear her, and talk to her, rather than just wait for a call to come for a funeral, was when I realized it was a really easy decision. I booked my flight, and 3 hours later, I was on a plane from Denver to Phoenix.

The next four days were busy, I helped my family with things most of us had never done in caring for one who is dying. We mastered changing sheets with someone still in bed. I learned that a wet washcloth across one's face can be the most luxurious treatment. Chapstick, ice chips, a red sippy cup, so many pillows, the hum of oxygen, swollen hands, talking to people who aren't there, her moments of lucidity, her "I love yous."

My mom, Aunt Teri, and I left for a bit on July Fourth to watch some fireworks. I drove up to an area close to my old Think Spot. We saw several fireworks shows with the whole Phoenix metro stretching out before us. When we got back, my grandpa was giving my grandma a blessing. The mood was very different from when we'd left an hour-and-a-half before. I silenced my phone and stayed until 11:30. I wanted to take Alice home so my Aunt Connie's dog could come out of the bedroom she was in. Her dog, Lucy, liked to bark at Alice, and I didn't want any chance for abrasive barking to shatter the peace. I hugged everyone. I went over to Verda and told her I loved her, and that I'd see her in the morning. She told me she loved me in her muddled voice.

(A little panorama of what our days looked like. Taken July 4, 2015)

She passed away at 4:30 AM on July 5th. My mom sent me a text at 4:43. I didn't look at my phone until 6 because I hadn't taken it off silent from the night before. I quickly got ready and drove to their house. As I was nearing their house, I saw a white van coming from their driveway. It turned in front of me, and I knew the body of the one we'd cared for and loved on was in the back. I paused before turning into the driveway to watch the van for a few blocks.

I arrived to family who had just seen her be taken away. It was very tender. I walked around and hugged everyone in the yard for a few minutes before heading inside. I went straight to the dining room to hug family there. When I walked into the living room, it was empty, the hospital bed she'd been in for 4.5 days was empty. That's when I cried.

By the end of the day, her obituary was written, and most of her service planned. The next day, Monday, we went to the mortuary and made the final arrangements, picked the casket, finalized the program. Jake and the girls met me for lunch after the mortuary. They'd made it down from Colorado. On Tuesday, Jake rehearsed a musical number for the service with a flutist, we finalized family luncheon plans, and Jake and I went to buy him some pants that he could wear to a funeral because all we had were vacation clothes. (Luckily, I had some dressier clothes than Jake.)

(The Chesnut Family Group Shot at the luncheon)

At 3 on Tuesday afternoon, I went to the mortuary with my mom, Aunt Brenda, Connie, Teri, and Terri. (I have three Aunt Ter[r]i's on that side.) It is customary for endowed members of the Mormon church to be buried in their temple clothes, and for other endowed members of the church to dress the dead. It was a very surreal experience - the whole week prior had been - but this in particular. I was present in the moment, but also having a sort of out-of-body experience. There was respect and reverence for what was happening, but also a sort of detached, "I have never done this before" feeling. I'd never touched a dead body before, let alone tried to maneuver one into stockings and a dress, and every other piece of ceremonial clothing. Her perm was a little too grown out for her hair to lay just right, so we curled her hair. As I was curling, I took all precautions not to pull her hair, and I shielded her eyes from hairspray. On a very random note, I had to ask if we could borrow a small curling iron from the mortuary to curl her hair. After Shawn, the worker who was waiting in the wings to help us, returned with the curling iron, I went to plug it in and saw two little grey hairs still attached to the barrel. I wondered how many other grandmas that little curling iron had help prepare for their final resting place.

When trying to decide how to describe the feeling of my grandma's limbs during the dressing, I couldn't think of the perfect thing. I sent an email to my friend, Mary Bliss, several days after the funeral telling her what had been happening on my side of the world, and she sent back the perfect descriptor: "Made of clay."

I was up late on Tuesday night writing Verda's life history. I'd spent the evening interviewing her children and a few of her grandchildren for material to fill the pages. I ended up going to bed at 4AM on Wednesday morning after I emailed a draft of the life history to my Aunt Connie. Verda's viewing started at 9AM. The service was at 10. The music was lovely. We walked into Jake playing Don Williams's "You're My Best Friend," which was Don and Verda's song. My Aunt Teri (one of them!) did a fantastic job reading the life history. Jake and the flutist, Laura Friar, played a lovely duet of "O My Father." When it was time for the family to leave, we walked out to Jake playing George Strait's "The Chair," one of Verda's favorites. We left the church for the cemetery and dedication of her grave, then returned to the church for the family luncheon.
(My parents and siblings and our children. Candid, just the way I like it.)

I hadn't seen a lot of that side of the family in over a decade. I loved every second of my time with them. Don and Verda became my grandparents when I was 12 and my mom married my [step]dad. With them came an amazing family. I got to see a lot of them over Mother's Day weekend when we were all in Arizona for my [step]sister's wedding. I had missed them. Don and Verda had become great confidants in the last few years. I loved sitting in their living room talking with them. I could tell them anything, and they always had good advice. I still expect many more years of good advice from Don, but I will miss Verda. So very much.

And that leads to where I am right now. Everything was so busy before and after her death. It's just been in the last few days that I've started processing the grief. I can't think about her without crying. She had this unique combination of tender and feisty. When I was in Arizona a few years ago, I went to Sacrament Meeting in their ward. (Sacrament Meeting is the hour block in the three hour church service where Mormons are together as a whole congregation and they take the sacrament (communion).) I sat next to her, and she softly rubbed the back of my hand for the whole hour. She also never minced her words. She kept it real. And because of that, it was easy to be real with her. Grief is such a funny thing. I feel like I've said that exact same thing in previous posts. I mean it.

But it's that love that our souls are made of. That love that makes my heart sing in connectedness and sting at loss. It transcends lives.

Bike Rides and Families

The biggest news of today is this: Cora Adeline Grace Johnson has mastered bike riding.

Look at her go!!

I have spent the week recovering from pinkeye, a sinus infection, two ruptured eardrums, and two ear infections. My left eardrum burst in the middle of the night after I went to the doctor. I'm grateful it wasn't as painful as when my right eardrum decided it had enough.

I feel like today was the first day that could really count as recovery. I'm not sure how long it will take for my ears to fully heal, to lose the ringing and echo-y sounds, or to feel kind of normal again, but I am certain this wasn't what I had in mind for my summer. The not hearing well part isn't great, but the dizzy spells are proving to be the worst. If I turn my head too quickly, or move in a different direction, I feel like falling over. One of my new life goals is to never experience Vertigo. Ever.

Last night, we watched an old family video that touched me. It was Christmas Day at Jake's paternal grandparents' (Mammy and Granddad) home in 1990. Everyone was there. All four children, their spouses, and all eleven grandchildren. Grandmother, Mammy's mom, was even there. This woman is legendary, and I've never seen her on video before. It was wonderful. It was also bittersweet.

Mammy passed away just before Christmas. I haven't written much about it. I've processed her death very differently without having been there during the last few months of her life when Dementia completely took over, and she wasn't really Mammy anymore. In many ways I'm grateful that she was still her when we left for Los Angeles.

The part of the video that really got me was the timing. Six months after it was filmed, that family was put through the wringer. It was changed forever. Vaughn's dad, Granddad, left Mammy on Father's Day in 1991. He didn't just leave her, he left the whole family - stayed in the same small town, but didn't have contact with any of his children or grandchildren. Actually seeing the faces of those sweet little grandbabies, and a family enjoying being together juxtaposed with the story, made me have to work really hard at staying in control of my emotions.

I realized, in watching it, that I knew all of the people, but I didn't know that family. It doesn't exist anymore.

Jake's granddad actually lives a little over a block away from the home his parents' have lived in for the last six-and-a-half years. While Cora was riding her bike this morning, I saw his car back out of the driveway and come our way. Jake had Cora pulled over "up the hill" towards his house when he saw the car coming towards them. I wondered if he would recognize Jake, or see that little girl on the bike and know that it was his great-granddaughter. And not just know that it was his great-granddaughter, but do a tiny happy dance that she'd just made it through a rite of passage.

In the middle of my flurry of thoughts, he turned at the intersection right before he got to them, and I was sure that he [or his wife] decided make that turn as a precaution, to avoid the kid on her bike in the street.


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