Tuesday, September 02, 2014

On Miracles

Every few years I feel like I re-examine what it means to have faith. I'm not talking about whether or not to be a part of a Faith . . . using the word in a way that it makes it synonymous with religion, or insert the name of a certain church. No, I believe that your relationship to a church, while certainly being an element of faith, is separate from the question of faith as an expression of deep belief that inspires you to action. 

Two events have unfolded in the last few months in my life that have cause this re-examination to take place. The first is that a friend of mine was recently diagnosed with colon cancer. Despite symptoms of major colon issues, she spent several months praying and believing that whatever she had going on would just clear up. I don't see her as a person who believes in faith healing, per se, but she did spend several weeks with whooping cough last summer before her very practical teenage son insisted she go to the doctor. I think she is busy . . . she has seven children and a hundred things she enjoys doing. I think she puts off such visits, as many of us do, thinking we'll eventually get better on our own. 

Anyway, by the time she was diagnosed, she had a malignant tumor the size of a golf ball obstructing her bowel. It obstruction was discovered Friday and they had the surgery scheduled by Monday. While hospitalized, all of her lymph nodes were checked and cleared as cancer free. The tumor was completely excised and she won't even undergo chemo or radiation. 

And yet, despite my very real gratitude for her clean bill of health, I have had a hard time getting my head around the language of miracles she and her husband have so freely spoken of in the last few weeks. You see, many years ago, my family likewise fasted and prayed for a miracle and my aunt died of colon cancer anyway. She had a family of young children and was just 34 years old. Our lives are in God's hand and we are subject to natural processes. We cannot change His mind nor erase the fact that we are born to eventually die. 

I am not the best at prayer, or maybe faith, but as I get older I have come to believe, as CS Lewis once spoke, that we don't pray to change God, we pray to change ourselves. And yet, of the many prayers uttered in my friend's behalf the Sunday before she went to her surgery, I heard very little thy-will-be-done type prayers and very many of those other types. Please Lord, give us exactly what we want.

From my friend's Facebook page,  "My heart is so full of deep gratitude for the results I learned today. . . To deny the reality of a divine creator, a merciful God and a loving Savior would deem me an ignorant fool in not recognizing to whom the power of the prayers of so many has blessed the preservation of my life and the ability to continue to love and serve and raise my children and others upon this earth for some while longer. I'm very grateful for all the love and support our family has been given and received during such a challenging time. Faith precedes the miracle. I love you all."

This is a lovely, public expression of gratitude and her faith, already very strong, is clearly stronger now. 

But what about when faith does NOT come before a miracle? My thoughts of my aunt have been very heavy in the last few weeks. I will not deny that her family has indeed experienced miracles, and I know that her daughters have at times felt their mother very near as they have grown. But it has been a very, very hard road for them in many ways. They dealt with trials as children (related to their mother's death and their father's subsequent, disastrous re-marriage) that I can hardly even begin to comprehend. I don't think I could ever say that any child is better off without their loving, and lovely mother. I know that God is in charge of the universe, but I also know that he wouldn't be God if he intervened every time we were uncomfortable. Part of what makes Him God is that He allows the world to proceed as it will, so that we can learn and grow from this experience. Even when it means we suffer. Especially when it means we suffer.

My friend's faith is lovely. Beautiful. Almost childlike in its simplicity and trust. 

It is not a faith that works for me. And when I read her piece I felt strongly that such simple expression belittles those who have prayed in great faith . . . with the greatest faith they knew and still not received the hoped for blessing. I hope that I would not imply to another that if they just had a little more faith they would see a few more miracles. For nothing is more personal than faith.

The second thing that has happened is the process of selling our home and buying another. It has been a ride. In June, after bidding on two homes, I was practically ready to give up and just chuck it all in for a while, continuing to endure the small house. I had begun praying for patience, humility and most of all, gratitude for all that I'd been given rather than discontent for what I didn't have. 

And then the house we wanted came through. Not luck or even coincidence. It was an empty short sale and we hounded the neighbors until we got the needed information and put the process in to play. That process was much shorter than expected (as noted in an earlier post) and we have spent many hours in the last few weeks making sure our financing was in place--a tricky proposition because we had no contract on the home in which we currently live.

In the past weeks, many have told me to pray that the new house would come through and the old one would sell. You've earned this! You deserve it! You do the right things, God will bless you! I have heard each of these and more from my delightfully sweet friends who have more faith in general, and certainly more faith in me than I have in myself.

But I couldn't do it. Not once have I been able to bring myself to my knees to pray specifically for this particular blessing. I just couldn't. The world is such a hot mess right now. There is actual suffering and pain and . . . well, I'm sure you can watch the news as well as I can. About three weeks ago, I was on my knees, knowing we needed a blessing. We nearly ran to the point of bankruptcy with a house nine years ago; I am deeply fearful to go through that again. 

I found there were things I could pray about. I prayed that if it was a bad idea then our loan wouldn't come through. I prayed that whatever happened we would not be foolish enough to clean out the boys' mission fund. I prayed that we would continue to be generous with our time and talents despite our greater obligations.

And then I had a moment of inspiration during my jumbled prayer of desperation. This scripture came to mind from Luke:

27 Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
 28 If then God so clothe the grass, which is to day in the field, and to morrow is cast into the oven; how much more will he clothe you, O ye of little faith?

 29 And seek not ye what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink, neither be ye of doubtful mind.

 30 For all these things do the nations of the world seek after: and your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things.

 31 ¶But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you.

And I finally knew what to pray for.

I spent a happy fortnight praying for experiences that would allow me to serve others. Oh, I still did all the things necessary to work on getting the house, etc. And I still worried. I can't help it; it is my nature to do so. But little by little I was able to let go of really caring if it went one way or the other. I felt the joy of spontaneous chances to serve and was able to sleep. I felt at peace with whatever happened next.

We fasted 9 days ago, but I was in a better place to do so. Our fasting was about gratitude and a desire to serve and give our boys a place to grow and gather with their friends. I was finally able to approach my question with proper humility and in the right frame of mind, but with trust that it would all proceed as it must.

Four days ago, We got a perfect offer on our house the same day our new one was recorded in our name.

Getting the new house feels like a LOT of hard work over the past year. Selling the house we are in? That feels like a miracle. The scriptures tell us that faith precedes the miracle. I don't doubt it. But in my case, I had to learn a lesson in faith first. The miracle isn't selling the house. The miracle is the change in heart. Maybe the miracles are not what others see, but what we come to understand as we learn to exercise faith.

I didn't pray about the house, though I've expressed much gratitude since. I am coming to see more and more that my prayer needs to be a supplication to the Father of the Universe that he will find a way to use me. I don't think it is fair for me to ask anything else. God will bless us as he will, but I am going to try to focus less on the the blessings I think I need and more on how I might be a blessing to others and recognize more miracles as they come, while allowing others to see what miracles they see as well. 

Oh, I'm still the girl that would go get checked out right away, if I was dealing with the symptoms my friend had, but it doesn't mean I have to be a skeptic either. By seeing the world as it is maybe I'm better able to help it. Maybe my leap of faith, my gift, is to feel the doubt about so many different things and still behave as though there is no doubt. To not know of a surety, but to still plead that the Lord will help mine unbelief.

Monday, August 25, 2014

First Day Back At Work

I am thinking about some really deep things that I'd like to really talk with you about. About faith and the nature of prayer and miracles and all that. But I also started back to work today. And I'm trying to move in the next two weeks. So deep thoughts may have to wait.

However, I probably forgot to tell you that I'm teaching English this year . . . and even better I'm teaching seniors. AND, wait for it, Jane Eyre may be one of our offerings this fall. Work is a lot of work, if that makes any sense, but Jane Eyre? New textbooks? Seniors? It is going to feel like book group every day.

At least, in my mind. I'll be hopeful; I haven't met the little darlings yet!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Letter to the Editor. Because When I Get Really Miffed I Write.

So I didn't have time for this, but I just got a bee in my bonnet. No doubt it will end up in a black hole with very low priority in the bowels of Houghton-Mifflin-Harcourt, but I just had to do it.


To Whom It May Concern:
My school district has adopted your excellent collections curriculum for use in our high school. The selections are engaging; the materials are beautiful from a design standpoint; and as a teacher with a strong background in educational technology, I find your interactive aspects very exciting. 

I have spent the last several days reviewing these materials in preparation to begin the school year. In my reading I came across the essay, "The Clan of the One-Breasted Women" by Terry Tempest Williams. It is found on Page 187 of the Grade 12 collections book. 

The essay is mostly about seeking social justice for wrongs committed by government agencies (in this case, nuclear testing in northern Nevada), but it is also ostensibly about Williams' Mormon upbringing. 

I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The nickname of our church has traditionally been "Mormons" for our belief in a book of scripture titled The Book of Mormon. Because the name was once meant to be degrading, however, it is preferential for LDS people to be referred to as LDS or by the church's full name. "Mormon" is also used, but it is a slang name for our church. Williams uses the term in her essay purposely to demonstrate herself as an insider or a disaffected member, but in all three of your footnotes and your introduction the proper name of the church is not once included. While certainly unintended, your use only of the informal name is disrespectful and incorrect. It certainly is wordier to get it correct, but your fact checkers really messed up on this one. The style guide on all press releases from the LDS church and on our website, www.lds.org, respectfully request those writing in the media to make this distinction. 

A second, and even more glaring factual error regarding LDS practice is found at the bottom of page 188. The book says that the author's use of "the Service" is in reference to LDS missionary service. This cannot be correct. The referenced paragraph tells about the author as a young girl on her mother's lap, and her mother as being pregnant and they "had just gotten out of the Service." In that time period, while both LDS men and women did serve missions, they did so before marriage while they were single, and certainly before children. In addition, I have never, in my nearly 40 years as a member of the faith, ever heard anyone call their mission "the Service" with a capital "S." That term is reserved wholly for reference to the military, a place where many LDS people also serve with distinction. The paragraph clearly refers to her young, married parents, just finishing a stint with the military. And while Williams' mother and/or father may have certainly served an LDS mission, this is not the author's meaning in the suggested paragraph. 

The other two footnotes that discuss Latter-day Saint beliefs are accurate and succinct. Even the reference to "Mormon" here would not be too glaring if the proper name of the church was given in story heading.

My comments here are not prompted by the author's obvious rejection of her LDS upbringing and her both subtle and not so subtle criticisms of things we take to be sacred and profound. It is, however, one of the only essays I've so far encountered in your excellent materials that seem to relish in a critique of a certain belief system or culture (as many writers on the subject will tell you that if being a Latter-day Saint is a religion, being a "Mormon" is a cultural identity like Judaism). I find many of Williams' arguments rather absurd when my perception is that more rural American members share a strong Libertarian bent that is anti-establishment concerning government. In addition, her family proclivity to breast cancer is certainly as much to blame on genetics (the havoc that the BRCA genes wreak on families is especially well-documented) as on environmental pollution, and certainly much more to blame than her childhood belief system. These last comments could, of course, be a partial basis for engaging in a discussion about the piece in pushing back against the text, and it is healthy for students to examine their beliefs about all kinds of things. I am just not certain that you have chosen the best example for a chapter on Voices of Protest.

If you want to really use the Mormon story to make a point, you should publish a copy of the extermination order signed into law by the Missouri governor in the 1830's. the LDS people were designated as enemies of the state . . . either to be driven out or killed. Before they were driven out of their main city at Far West, their men were disarmed and made to stand in the outskirts while a militia plundered the city and raped some of the women left behind. They were then driven to Illinois in the winter with only what they could carry. It was less than a generation ago that the Missouri governor made a formal apology for his state's role in this egregious violation of American rights.
I sincerely hope this letter made it to the desk of somebody in a position to improve later editions of collections, which I sincerely hope will be in print for many years to come. 

Sincerely,
Science Teacher Mommy

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Because When Everything Happens at Once, It Is WAY More Exciting!

This summer has been one for the books.

Not sure what I mean by books, because, really, who on earth would want to keep track of all of this?

We had one slow week and then everything just exploded (imploded? What is the difference?) 

Jedi Knight went on trek in Washington, and the boys went to gymnastics camp. Lest you think I just coasted, however, please keep in mind that I had to take a series of tests in order to keep my teaching license. It was like studying for an AP test or being in college without any of the credit or fun. I also watched a friend's daughter one day and we just did girly stuff.

 















At the end of that week Plantboy and I took a weekend on the coast where we lamented having a second offer on a house not pan out. We knew the house we wanted was a vacant one around the corner from ours . . . so we vowed to come home and do all we could to track down the owner and make an offer.






On Saturday our ward hosted a chili cook off that I ended up at the last minute kind of being in charge of. It was a big community-wide event that the missionaries were taking the lead on, but it was realized with about a week to go that the ward really needed a contact person. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time to get the assignment, I guess! Still, the kids had a blast; the local pet store even brought some of their exotics to help break the ice. I had to inform the kids at the end of the night that no, we would not be buying a lemur.






We found the right neighbor to talk to about the house and by Sunday night and started the ball rolling, making an offer on the 3rd of July, less than 24 hours after it had officially gone on the market. The house is in short sale and we were told these could take months.





We went to the coast again on July 5th, this time taking the kids back to Cape Perpetua to hike. When Plantboy and I went earlier in the summer we just drove it. The hike is incredible and not to challenging for the boys. WHAT A VIEW!
































Then Padawan went to Cub Camp where I helped much of the week. We spent the next week cleaning the house and hauling much junk to the garage in the event that our offer on the short sale came through and we had to put the house on the market.




















At the same time we got word from a family we knew some years ago in this ward that they were going to be attending the temple for the first time. This was a huge deal for them, and for us. We have loved and prayed for this family often over the years and they asked Plantboy and I to attend both the sealing (Friday night) and the sealing (Saturday in the day), keeping in mind that our temple is a four-hour round trip and that we were leaving for a two-week vacation Sunday morning. 

Here is how it played out:

July 17--found out our house offer is accepted, seller wanting to close by the end of August
July 18--cleaning house and prepping it to sell and attending temple
July 19--Attending temple, cleaning house, filling out paper work to sell and packing for vacation







July 20--Travel to Washington to visit Plantboy's childhood home, the Columbia River temple and to catch up with an old college roommate in the tri-cities. Spend the night in Spokane.









July 21--Travel to Bozeman

 









July 22--Spend the day in Yellowstone, including two hikes, one dip in the Boiling River (on purpose!), thirty elk sightings, eleven buffalo sightings and two bee stings. Spend the night in Cody, Wyoming with Plantboy's family at our biennial reunion.














July 23--Visiting the Buffalo Bill Dam, Swimming, catching up with family, attending the rodeo







July 24--River rafting, Cody museum, Cody shootout, the Minion performance










 



 
 
July 25--Travel back through Yellowstone including more hiking, buffalo and Old Faithful. Travel to Ogden to spend the week with my family. Top the day off with a viewing of Austenland with my mom and sister. Hilarious!













July 26--More swimming and lunch with grandpa. I attended a baby shower with my mom and sister and saw several family members I haven't seen for years. Facebook hardly counts.






July 27--Church with parents where we heard an awesome Sister report on her mission and my dad bore his testimony. Traveled to Ogden Valley to a condo and met with my family for a mini-reunion before my nephew heads on his mission. We showed a video I spent several hours making that includes pictures of many family members. 






 
 




July 28--Boating and a day at the lake. Drove Plantboy to the SLC airport so he could head home and work for the week. I can still slalom ski. Barely. I'm feeling every minute of my 40th year when I try it!
July 29--A morning at the rec center and then another afternoon at the lake for kayaking, canoeing and paddle boarding. 















July 30--Cleaning the condo while the older kids boat again. Lunch with my excellent sister-in-law and her sweet little ones. The afternoon was mostly spent in recovery from two days in the sun.








July 31--Hiking with cousins and an afternoon at the movies. How to Train Your Dragon 2 . . . so much different and worse than the first. We then went to Cache Valley that evening to visit my dad's cousin who has a huge electric train set. The boys were in heaven. I was happy just to enjoy the mountains out the back. 



August 1--Met with cousins for the Ogden temple open house. Ice cream and a trip to Deseret Book afterward, of course. Spent the evening laughing with my nephew whom I won't see again for quite some time.  

 

 







August 2--Drive to Ontario to spend the night.
August 3--Drive to Eugene; a very long and difficult drive on your own across the mostly desolate center of my lovely state on two-land highway. Pack Jedi Knight for Scout Camp so that I can deliver him there at 3:30 Monday morning.

Since arriving home two days ago it has been a flurry of cleaning, regrouping and making sure all is on track for the house . . . which is supposed to close in two weeks. And I'm supposed to be back at work in three weeks.

Does it all sound frazzling? It is supposed to. I am frazzled.

However, it was one of the best trips to family we have ever had. Things were actually planned and organized more than usual. People took time off to spend with us, and except for the last day or two, my kids were mostly very good. So much less work than they were even two years ago. I don't think I would trade any part of this summer, though I'm already gratefully thinking about how relaxing the next one will be in comparison. At least, I hope it is; this is me we are talking about after all.