Sunday, October 1, 2017

To Stand or Kneel

For the last couple of years the high school at which I work as a lunch lady has had a wonderful project to help the students and even faculty get to know one another better and to take a moment to see things from someone else's point of view.

It's called "Swap a Heart". Everyone gets a t-shirt to decorate any way they want, hopefully relating to the short essay they are encouraged to write. It is hoped one will write about something they are passionate about, that makes them tick. I'd like to share what I wrote and painted here:

For a little over a year now I have taken time to observe the faculty and students at ______ High School. Working in the lunchroom doesn’t give me a chance to observe them in the classrooms, but seeing them wander by, wander in, and wander through the lunchroom has had me thinking about one thing in particular: the observance of the Pledge of Allegiance.

One particular co-worker of mine is crazy into scouting. She has worked with the cub scouts for possibly more years than I have been alive. When I first came here about five years ago I marveled as she paused every morning to place her hand over her heart and recited the Pledge. Every morning! It brought home to me my own lack of respect when it came to what the Pledge of Allegiance meant to me.

In the years since I have only seen one young man stop on his way to class (even though he was late) to place his hand over his heart, face toward the flag, and recite the Pledge. One young man. That’s it. I became saddened. It takes a minute at most, yet no one else has done the same.

In recent months a popular protest amongst Americans is to kneel during the Pledge of Allegiance and the singing of the National Anthem. I have been struggling to understand why, in particular because the things they are protesting for are the very things the National Anthem, the flag, and the Pledge stand for. In my mind these individuals were disrespecting the very things this land was dedicated toward preserving.

Most of the time I find social media difficult to stomach, as people far and wide have decided it’s the best place to lay out their every opinion, whether it’s warranted or not. I was grateful for it in the last few weeks, however, as I was given a small insight into the reasoning behind those who kneel.

The reasons came down to one simple thing: hope. Hope for something better. We are a nation of individuals who hope for more than the lot we have been given in life.

Hope for freedom to walk down the street without fear.

Hope that our words can and will make a difference somewhere.

Hope that as we go about our daily lives there will be those who see us, our needs, our fears, and our courage.

Hope that if we did not start our lives in America, we can make more of our lives here.

Hope that the color of our skin, our hair, or our eyes will not make people uncomfortable, but embraceable.

 Hope that when someone looks our way the state of our smile will be more important than the state of our clothes, our car, or our home.

Hope that our children will grow up to be the leaders who will make the changes necessary to allow our hopes to become reality.

And when our hope feels frail, as though the fires have been trampled to the point where even the embers are unseen, that is when we kneel. That is when we take the broken and shattered pieces of our hope and place them at the feet of God, in whom we trust.

This we do in the hopes that one day He will heal our hope enough that we can see ourselves stand once more, hands over our hearts, one nation under His protection and guidance, whole again.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Impressions We Leave Behind

This weekend, being the LDS Church's annual General Conference, is one of the busiest for my husband. He helps to cook the food for all the Church leaders who meet to speak and teach, for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir who performs, and for the audio/visual and security and all the others who work behind the scenes for two incredibly busy days.

That's a whole lot of people to feed.

Some people volunteer to be on the serving lines and help to clean up. One such woman took a look at my husband as he made the rounds and said, "I just love your wife." He had never met this woman before and couldn't understand how she knew we were married.

Come to find out she was a friend of mine from high school. We latched on to one another early on in our Freshman year. I remember loving her long, blond hair and bubbly laugh. I remember us walking down the hall one day and saying in a seriously cheesy teenage tone, "Hi Jared" to a boy we both thought was cute. I remember laughter and tears, and most of all love.

When my husband asked what I was like in high school, I don't think she could recall much more than I did, only to say, "I just know when she was around everything was happier. She made life fun." My friend also remembered me being there while her parents were going through a divorce.

Those words of hers meant a lot to me, especially as I've been doing some serious soul-searching the last few weeks. Being a Relief Society President in a ward (basically the leader over the women of our local congregation) requires things, and some of those things do not come naturally. For me, it's getting out of my house and going visiting. Some of you may think, "That's not so hard." Others (fellow introverts unite!) may be mentally patting me on the back in understanding.

There is a huge emotional block when it comes to placing myself in the personal space of others. I begin to psych myself out with thoughts of people not wanting me to visit them, to call, to ask about their personal life. Yet common sense tells me that's exactly where I am supposed to go and what I am supposed to do. I watch as my counselors are easily able to accomplish precisely what I am so unwilling to do, and then begin chastising myself for not being like them.

During the different General Conference sessions the last two days, I have been given insight into what I need to do in order to overcome this. The answers came from three different speakers, but the messages all came together for me.

1. Look up. When I am busy hanging my head in fear and disappointment in myself, look up. Therein lies the Light of Christ. Therein sits the goal of who I want to become and what Heavenly Father needs me to be. I must look up in order to get up and move forward.

2. Stretch a little farther. Just as the woman with an issue of blood had to stretch in order to touch the hem of the Savior in full faith that she would be healed, I need to stretch a little farther to fulfill my calling of looking after the sisters of the ward. The Savior will reach out to help me along that path, but I also have to reach out to Him, knowing He will help me push past this block.

3. Fear and faith cannot reside side-by-side. I know this. I really do know this, and I am getting better at putting aside fear and stepping forward in faith. It is simply time for me to put into practice the things I know. Fear is crippling, and for some reason it runs deep through the lines of my father's family. Breaking the chains takes putting faith into action.

4. I am not meant to be the leaders before me. It's one of the hardest things for any leader to shake off - the ghosts of those who came before. Relief Society leaders hold this position for about 3 years, sometimes more or less. When I look into the room on Sunday it is filled with women who have been where I now stand, and I cannot imagine how I am supposed to live up to their legacies. Today I was told I don't have to. I have my own purpose, and it is to love in the best ways I know how.

I thought about the impressions I left with this friend of mine from over 20 years ago, just as she left her impressions with me. I began to think about what sort of impressions I want to leave with the sisters, and I decided that if I can leave them with similar feelings as I did with my friend, then I have done good. This means make them laugh, let them think of love, and be there when they need a shoulder to cry on.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Two Years and a Lot of Changes

It's been almost two whole years since the beginning of another new journey, one that has taken me down roads I never thought I'd travel. One thing I discovered about getting rid of false ideals that have taken years to pile on, they don't disappear in one go. As I peeled off a few layers of lies, the forgotten truths that first created those lies reared up biting.

WARNING: If any of you find child abuse to be a trigger, please don't keep reading. Please.

It was the same night that I wrote about in my last post. I was still flying high from the peace I felt when I went to bed. I have always been a side or stomach sleeper. Always. Laying on my back, even in the dentist's chair, makes me dizzy and sick to my stomach. That night I happened to think about this silly fact when these words popped into my mind: "Maybe I can't sleep on my back because I couldn't breathe when he would lay on me." Just like that I couldn't breathe. Just like that I was curled up in a ball biting back sobs so I wouldn't wake my husband.

When I gained enough control over myself I crept into the living room to sit on the floor, rock, cry, and pray. I don't know how long I was there. It doesn't really matter. The next day was Sunday. The moment I was able to get a hold of my husband and my bishop at the church building I asked for a blessing. I was numb for a good while.

The next night I sat on our back porch, grateful the kids were gone that evening to various friends' houses. Instead of putting down negative thoughts about myself I began a tirade of angry words at this man (a neighbor). I filled pages and pages until I couldn't write much more. The words most penned - I was just a little girl.

At last I ran out of steam, no more room to be angry...for the moment. It was then more words came to my mind. Be gentle. You have no idea how he was abused as a child. Though I cannot explain it, I knew with absolute certainty that whatever he had done to me and other children in our neighborhood was nothing compared to what his own father had done to him over years and years. This knowledge was placed into my head because in that moment I had a choice. I could either choose to dwell in the misery and anger this new found truth brought, or I could choose to forgive with the understanding that even as it would set me free, one day this man would have a reckoning with his Savior.

Being who I am, I chose forgiveness. What surprised me was the healing it brought when it came to how I thought of myself. I had spent years trying to understand why I always felt like a dirty, sinful creature. I would mentally beat myself up for things I didn't even understand. There was this lie so deeply etched in my child's mind that if something was wrong I couldn't tell anyone. Especially my parents, because my parents would be so mad at me. Looking back on my life, on the things I kept reprimanding myself for, they were due to the false beliefs this man forced on me. I didn't want to live those lies any more.

One day during that week I took some time and attended one of our temples. I prayed. Oh how I prayed. Near the end of my time there an answer came in the form of a scripture:

"That ye might be sanctified from all sin."

To be sanctified means to be cleansed, not only just the body but the spirit as well. If I was to move forward and find happiness and light and become the person my Heavenly Father saw, I needed to be cleansed in both body and spirit. That is what I worked on for a good year.

Memories popped up now and again. Some were horrific, others were fairly benign. Yet they each held the emotions of that little girl as she experienced them. I dealt with panic attacks, yet was blessed that I was still able to work through it all. I received counseling from a man who was definitely guided by the Spirit as to how to help me best.

I have to credit my amazing parents. They had no idea what was going on, but they gave me a home full of love and the gospel of Jesus Christ. I was safe there. I have no doubt that made all the difference.

Since that time other major changes happened, changes that needed me to be much more whole. Our ward (local congregation) and another ward that meets in our same building had both been struggling for years for enough people to fulfill the necessary positions. Church officials on a higher level counseled together and decided to combine our congregations. When our new bishop was called, he asked me to be the Relief Society President - I was now to watch over more than 300 women in our new ward. I have two counselors and a secretary with whom I work.

Yet I still feel as though I'm not enough. I can't seem to get to everybody to talk and chat and visit with. In the almost one year we've been together my presidency and others have overseen more than 14 funeral luncheons. Being a part-time worker and a full time wife and mom doesn't leave a ton of time to do everything I want to do, and I can feel those ugly lies trying to take hold again.

If I had not been awakened to what happened all those years ago, if I had not let go of all those lies, my ability to function in this position would have had me drowning. Instead I am treading water with a life jacket on. My Savior will not let me drown.

It's been two years since I last wrote, but it's been an amazing two years.