Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Valley of the Shadow

I lived a golden life for many, many years in which I never saw death close to me. My family was remarkably healthy and accident-free. My nana died when I was thirteen, but I she didn’t live close and my parents weren’t overcome by her loss, so I didn’t feel death was a bad thing either.

It was during the summer after my junior year in college that Lisa died. She’d lived across the hall from me in the dorms. A girl who walked the rebellious side (for BYU) had finally come around and shaped up her life. She’d come back to church, met a wonderful young man and died in a fiery car crash with him on the way home from his missionary open house. Can you say wow?

Then a few months later, I found out Jennifer died. A friend from grade school whom I thought about often but had never been overly friendly towards died in her sleep from collapsed lungs. No reason.
A year after that, I received a phone call over the summer from one of my professors. Michelle, one of my friends who’d done Study Abroad with me that Fall had died in a car crash.

Within a year, three people my age had died.

Old people could die and it seemed okay. Young people couldn’t die. Especially with no warning. That meant *I* could die. At any time.

It changed me fundamentally, these three deaths. From that time even until now, I don’t take time for granted. 

It spurred a conversation with my family one night as we were all around the dinner table. 

“You know how in movies people interact – they’ll have a fight or something and then one of them dies and the other person had a terrible life because they never said sorry?” I said. “What if we all decide right now that if one of us dies, we all make a promise that we won’t feel bad if we didn’t have our last conversation be all love and kisses – that it’s alright no matter what?”

My sisters and my dad all laughed and agreed. We talked about how dumb it was to waste our time worrying about that type of thing. We’d all assume forgiveness from each other and be happy no matter what.

My dad died last year and I’ve not felt it terribly. I miss him, but it was okay that he went. He was so easygoing I know he’d think it silly to worry about missing him. After all, he said, we’re an eternal family. I’ll just see you later.

On October 17th, I had only been at work for a little while when the phone rang. My sister (Sister #6) Allyson was on the line, panicking, hyperventilating and driving her car. My stomach curled in. As I made her pull over and repeat what she was gibbering, the horrible truth came out: our sister, Sister #4, Meagan, had died that morning. I panicked and started crying hysterically. I wanted EVERYONE to know I was in pain. I keened uncontrollably. My poor boss came running over to me and I could barely get out the news. She herded me into her office where I was helped to sit down and get myself together. She then told me to take all the time I needed and do whatever it was I needed to take care of things.

I called Allyson back. Sister #2, Melanie knew. Only-brother Ethan knew and was on his way to my brother-in-law’s house. Allyson would tell  Sister#5, April, as soon as she could get in touch with her. Mom didn’t know.

Oh my gosh. I was going to have to tell my mom that her daughter, her child was dead. I didn’t want to be the oldest child anymore. That was too hard.

Oh, and my homeless sister, Sister #3- Bethanie, needed to be told.

I was able to reach Bethanie the third or fourth time I called. She was annoyed when she answered the phone and I told her to step away alone and to bring her spouse with her. “What?!” she said, irritably. “Beth, this is about Meagan…” I was totally calm. Beth reacted exactly as I did. I asked her to hand the phone to her spouse, Wyatt. I explained what had happened and asked her to look after Beth. (Yes, Wyatt is a boy’s name, but Wyatt is a girl – long story.)

Allyson finally reached my mom’s house. As together as two sisters can be by phone, Allyson tried knocking. No answer.( My mom sleeps during the day since my dad died.) She crept around the house and was able to get in through the garage. I heard her open my mom’s bedroom door and wake her up. I’m scared more than I’ve ever been scared before. “Mom, I’m on the phone with Allyson. Please wake up!” I could hear her wake up and tell us to go away. Allyson persuaded her to listen. And I told my mom the news. 

She didn’t believe me. It took a few more minutes, recounting what we knew, but she became all business – she got up to go shower and GET TO MEAGAN’S HOUSE. Go Mom! 

I called my husband. He was wonderful. All the news was out. I went back to my desk to work. There was nothing else I could do…

The story came out over the course of the day. Meagan had just had knee surgery four days earlier and came back home the day before. That night, her husband had settled her on the couch with her dinner all wrapped up in saran wrap and the remote next to her. That was at midnight. The next morning, he found her at 7:00am. He leaned over to wake her, but found that she had died.

My little sister had died. My last conversation with Meagan had been a week or two previous. I’d cut it off short because I had something to do. She was bugged that I didn’t want to talk, but I laughed it off. And that was that - my last conversation with her. 

I thought about that conversation – I’d been thinking about her and how I needed to call. But I didn’t. And now I couldn’t. And that last conversation hadn’t been good or nice or … complete. I felt terrible. The conversation from years ago about forgiving each other in case of death didn’t feel as comforting as I wanted it to. 

Brian and I left the next afternoon for Utah, taking Kenneth with us. The trip was quiet and beautiful. I spent most of it looking out the window while Brian drove and Kenneth played in the back seat. I never sit and look out windows, but I did this time. There were beautiful rainbows as we drove.

We reached Utah on Sunday and immediately went to my brother in law, Erich’s, house. He was so together. My sisters had all gathered there, too. We planned for the funeral and the cleaning out of some of Meagan’s stuff. That might seem heartless, but it wasn’t. What else was Erich supposed to do with her clothes and craft supplies? “It’s what she would have wanted.” he said, when he planned the disposal of her possessions.

On Tuesday, I went back to his house with two of my sisters, my brother and his wife and Erich’s mom. We cleaned out Meagan’s craft room. It was the most organized craft room I’d ever seen in my life. Then her clothes. We laughed and cried a little. We marveled at what she had in the closet – stuff we remembered seeing her wear – stuff that was so her. It was the last bit of her we could keep.

On Thursday, my mom and two of my sisters went to the funeral home to dress Meagan for Friday’s funeral. I didn’t want to do it, but knew my other sisters wouldn’t/couldn’t. I also worried that my mom would have trouble. I was trying to be strong for everyone.  I planned out that I would walk in the room and just sit down on the couches until I could muster up the strength to look at her. Unfortunately, or rather, fortunately, I couldn’t help but see her as I walked into the room. It looked like she was sleeping. 

Gazing upon my dead sister was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. She wasn’t there. And yet, when I looked elsewhere and just saw her out of the corner of my eye, she seemed alive. But she wasn’t. It was so strange. I curled her hair. I put on makeup. I helped put her temple clothes on. And slowly, my two sisters joined in. My mom was an absolute rock. She’d come privately the day before to see Meagan on her own. It was a good thing for her to do and it made her emotionally available and strong for us the next day.

The funeral was beautiful. No one from the family spoke and I kind of wish we’d been able to, but the funeral directors cautioned that family members mostly cried, so it was better to have someone else speak. The speakers mispronounced her name and that made me sad.

After the funeral was the family dinner at the church. It was the most delicious food I’d eaten all week. Post-traumatic food is tasty. And we all laughed. We didn’t feel separate from Meagan.

I miss my sister. I wonder if she knows I miss her and if she knows I’m sorry about our last conversation. I wonder if she misses me, too.

I can’t believe how long it’s going to be until I see her again. But I have a feeling it will be like no time has passed at all.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Art of Homemaking

All women 18 years and out of high school in our church belong to Relief Society. It's founding in 1842 makes it one of the oldest women's organizations in the world and its purpose is to lift up the weary and strengthen the weak. On a more personal level, it is also to teach eternal principles of the gospel to women in a safe setting (women-only) and help them on their way to perfection.

For no good reason, I just don't like the company of women. Is it their sing-song, high-pitched voices? Is it their focus on things I just don't care about to the degree they do? Is it that I don't like focusing on differences in gender roles and I just want my husband to help clean up the house because IT IS THE RIGHT THING TO DO? I don't know and that's more a reflection on me than on anyone else. Most women love Relief Society. I am one of those that prefers the lessons of the priesthood instead. Ugh.

It's fitting then that my new calling at church is in Relief Society.God has a sense of humor. I am now the RS Meeting Coordinator. Once a quarter, we are supposed to have a meeting where we have a spiritual learning experience in a social setting. For those who have been around a while, it's just Homemaking in a new frock!

I have a friend in another ward (congregation) whom I enjoy visiting. I went to Mary Jo's house last week and told her about my new calling. Then I told her I hated Relief Society. Speaking as a past RS President, she said, "And that's why you are in that calling." Urgh.

And then she gave me these books:

The middle books is called "How to Be a Perfect Wife and Other Myths." Mary Jo has a sense of humor. My favorite one is shown at the top of this post.

I was brought in as coordinator to take over a previously planned meeting. This month is going to be Earthquake Preparedness. Next Saturday (October 18th) at 11am in the RS room, we're going to be learning about earthquake preparedness and protection. My table decorations are going to awe you.

In a meeting I had with the RS counselor I'm under, I told her my concerns about RS and how I don't feel I fit in. It turns out that she shares my concerns because SHE HAS THEM, TOO. We want meatier gospel topics and things that are more practical for the lives we are living right now. I suggested focusing on Elder Bednar's talk about sharing the gospel by example through social media. She thought it was great. Yay! I'm fitting in!

My reality is that I don't like Relief Society because I am an imperfect person. My choice is that I am going to do my best in this calling. I am going to use my gifts (art, writing, speaking, social media) to promote the gospel and share goodness.

To all of my friends who live in Bakersfield, please come to Relief Society. Everything is better with friends!

Monday, September 22, 2014

On Being Cool

This blog title is a lie.

I am probably the un-coolest person in the world. I'm not thin, wealthy, blond, in a prestigious job, a stay-at-home-mom (yeah yeah yeah whatever), or in a beautiful home. My calling at church is low-key (Relief Society Meeting Coordinator -that's Homemaking to you old folks) and my husband and I aren't part of the cool people group who get invited to parties or weekend vacations. My extended family is all broken up so there are no cool sibling stories to share (want to hear about my homeless sister who's made some really interesting choices?) Nope. It's just little ol' me.

What's really sad is how much time I've wasted in my life chasing the dream of coolness. (Like most of us.)

The first time I remember trying to be cool was at a party my parents threw when I was little - maybe four years old. I was standing in a group of adults and they all laughed. And then I laughed because they did. Then they all REALLY laughed. Immediately I asked my mom why they laughed and she explained to me that the adults laughed because I did. That didn't make any sense. I didn't understand WHY they laughed in the first place. It was the first time I realized a certain je ne sais quois was missing from my brain. I didn't understand how to be part of the cool crowd then and it didn't get any better.

I was Hermione before she was
What followed were years of trying to fit in and be someone people admired. To do that, I talked faster, laughed louder and generally tried to one-up everyone around me. You asked a question in class and I got all Hermione-like with trying to answer. And it wouldn't be just any old answer. No, it would use a single distinct meaningful element of speech or writing, used with others (or sometimes alone) to form a sentence and typically shown with a space on either side when written or printed and that was of considerable size, extent, or intensity. Or to say it differently: big words. And I didn't understand the stunned silence that followed nor why the teacher picked another student's simple (dumb) answer over mine.

In high school I had a wonderful group of friends who put up with my cravings for attention as kindly as possible, but it was impossible to ignore the fact that when the group eventually split into two-friend pairs, I was odd man out. 

One day at BYU changed my life. Of course, it is one of those stories that makes you cringe, but those are the best stories because of the effect they have on the story's protagonist.

I had finally decided to major in art - a decision that my parents shook their heads at, but which they had little say in because I was paying for my own education, not they. I hadn't decided on my focus in art and was dabbling in ceramics one semester. It was THE place to be - all of my best art buddies were in the class and the certain something that I felt when I was with them made me feel like the world was my oyster and I had made it.

At one point during the semester, we had to talk about our pieces to the entire class. I had no idea what I was doing in that class, or any class, to be honest, so had no idea what I was going to say. I listened to the other students and was amazed at the deep philosophy they spouted when they talked about their methods and design choices. They used certain words that I noticed the teacher liked - "vessel", "quality of line", "movement", etc. It was my turn and I did my best to emulate their words, putting all the emotion I could into explaining why I'd chosen to use a criss-crossing quality of line all over my cylindrical "vessel" which symbolized ---- My teacher abruptly got up and interrupted my explanation. I had no idea what she was saying because the blood pounded in my ears as I sat down. I knew, I suddenly KNEW why she'd interrupted me. I was full of baloney.

I've never forgotten the embarrassment I felt that day, but it did not make me bitter. I put the experience in a pot in the back of my mind where it has simmered for years. The fumes from the pot have subtly influenced my actions over the years, causing me to consider my words more thoughtfully and ask myself if I'm being honest or a show-off. Am I being myself? After all, there's only one me and I have something to offer that no one else has.

I'd like to say I've become a different person since that day in ceramics Hell- that I'm confident in myself. The truth is that I'm no more confident now than I was as a child. I STILL have no idea what is cool. On the other hand, I've let the words about being true to myself sink in. They're not in very deep, but I think about them more often. What do I have to offer the world that only *I* can offer?

So far I've come up with: quirky sense of humor, the ability to see things other people don't/can't/won't, an unhealthy inclination towards certain profane words (they make me giggle uncontrollably), a tinge of the wide-eyed childlike exuberance and joy that I've always had (but must control because my library doesn't approve of happy), a deep self-awareness (with baffling blindness about some things), and a distinct, unutterable knowledge that I am known by my Heavenly Father.

How about that? A God knows me (and you). And when I remember that, I wonder what He wants me to do while down here on earth. And then I think about all that time I spend/spent/spend chasing coolness - a determination of my worth by other people, maybe a mirroring of the light of others. But when I focus on that, I completely ignore the light that I generate all on my own. A light that no one else can make but me.

Matthew 5:16 says, "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven."

So the choice seems to be: 1) Focus on coolness and chase the light of others or 2) focus on the light within myself and let it shine forth for a greater good.

Well... I'm not very good at it yet, but it seems an admirable path. Here I go...

I took this cool picture

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Job's Sucky Friends

In Sunday School last week we had the lesson on Job. Normally I tune this story out because it's kind of depressing and gross (boils - eww). This time 'round, I heard the story in a new way.

Here's the story in a nutshell: Job is a perfect and upright man who worships God unfailingly. Satan challenges God that Job only loves Him because He has given him everything (wealth) and protects him from bad things. God tells Satan to go ahead and strip Job of his wealth and see what happens.

On earth, servants appear to Job, one by one, to inform him that his oxen, his sheep, and, finally, his camels have all been raided by enemies and stolen away. A fourth servant then appears to tell Job his children have all been killed in a windstorm. Job sorrows and worships God.

Satan next gets permission from God to try Job physically - eew, boils and rotten breath! It's so bad he lives out in the ashes (which I think is the burned garbage heaps). His wife urges him to curse God and die. He doesn't. His three friends then appear to "comfort" him by taking turns telling Job that he is wicked and that is why God is punishing him. What follows for several chapters are the back and forth comments and rebuttals between Job and his friends. Job insists that he has not sinned and his friends cite his trials as proof of wickedness. But Job never backs down. He knows he is good.

In the end, Job is validated by the Lord for his righteousness and his friends are chastised. Job is rewarded over and above what he lost and lives a long and happy life.

While the story was not new to me, an aspect I never considered was new: Job's relationship with his friends.

I had great friends growing up. The kind of girls I gravitated toward were really of high caliber - I wanted to be like them. They were smart, talented, funny, creative, and I was a better person for being around them. I'm not sure at what point I subsumed my own opinions in favor of theirs, but over the years, I found that I relied less and less on that little voice inside me and more and more on what my friends thought or felt.

I was in my late twenties when a good friend of mine asked if she could set me up with a man she knew. I agreed to meet him and spent an enjoyable evening with her, her husband and M. M was NOT someone I ever would have looked at twice, he being much older than I (10 years), a recent convert to the church (and therefore not temple ready), angrily divorced (yay for drama), and underemployed. He was nothing like my friends' husbands who were all much cooler. I was a little bummed that she thought he was a good match, but I ignored those feelings because of my friend's recommendation. I trusted in her more than myself.

What ensued was five emotionally tumultuous months of dating a man to whom I became more and more attached, all while finding out he wanted fewer and fewer of the things that I found important. At the end of the five months I was a wreck, having made more compromises than I dreamed possible in the hopes that we could work it out. Then he dumped me while we were on a road trip in my car. I had to drive him home afterwards while he waxed joyfully about how much better he felt. I pretended I was okay.

To say I was heartbroken was the understatement of the age. In truth, he merely used me emotionally and financially and was closer to me physically than I'd ever let a man be. I felt used and discarded, but no permanent damage was done. The worst thing was that I realized I needed to learn to trust the voice within me.

Job was in terrible torment. He had friends who opined about his predicament. In trials, it's so hard to think clearly - I would have sought solace by trying anything and everything. If my friends had told me I was sinning, I would have believed them! I would have been the sucky friend who agreed with everyone! Not Job. He stuck to his guns because he knew he was right.

I had one more trial run with a serious relationship before I met Brian. In that relationship, I also made mistakes listening to the Still, Small Voice inside me. But I was getting better. At least this time I was asking questions of God instead of relying on other people to tell me what I should feel. I was not perfect by any means - after all, that guy dumped me, too!

When Brian finally came along, I'd had enough practice being alone with my thoughts that I had the smallest inkling of how to listen to the voice within me. I find it interesting that God took that teeny tiny bit of faith and helped me make the biggest decision of my life - one that I heretofore had made badly more than once! - and make that decision well. The only person I asked advice of was my Dad - and I'd never asked him before. Earthly father and Heavenly Father. An interesting parallel.

A few months after I married Brian, I got an envelope in the mail from M. Within it was a check for the money he'd borrowed from me when we'd dated five years before. It paid for Brian's and my honeymoon to Disneyland. And that honeymoon gave us this:

My ability to listen to my inner compass waxes and wanes all the time. The important thing is to keep on trying and to be strong when I know something is true. Just like Job and not like his sucky friends.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Measuring Success

How does one measure success in life?

This is a question I have asked and do ask myself every day, multiple times a day. Alas! I am one of those who questions their worth constantly.

My Alas! face
I look at blogs and the number of followers each has. Is that success? I look at posts my friends make on Facebook and the number of friendly, comforting, commiserating comments they receive. Is the love others feel for them success? I see my women friends at church with their packs of children and wonder if fertility is a measure of success. And I won't even talk about their weight (or lack of it). How does one measure success? How do I measure it? In love? Admiration? Attention?

After we are baptized into the church, we receive a blessing of confirmation. In this blessing we are given the Gift of the Holy Ghost. It promises us that if we live worthily we are entitled to the constant companionship of the Spirit. I remember the day I was confirmed like it was yesterday. I was SO EXCITED to be baptized and confirmed. I knew, even at only eight years old, that something special and unique and Bigger Than Me was happening. As the priesthood holders laid their hands on my head and gave me that sacred blessing, I felt Something incredible. It wooshed down from my head all the way through me. The veil was thinner between Heaven and me at that moment because I knew - I KNEW - that I was connected to my Heavenly Father.

Me, as an 8-year old. I didn't know it was picture day
Imagine this look on my face as an 8-year old. Not hard, is it?!

That memory has never left me and I often wish to feel that physical presence again. But the Spirit doesn't work that way. It is the Still Small Voice, the Comforter, the burning in the bosom or the feeling of peace in your heart. I almost imagine the Spirit as a quiet, unobtrusive helper who stays out of my direct line of sight, making things work as well as I let them, but is easily forgotten since I can't see them. If I stop for a moment in life and look over my mental shoulder, I'm aware again of the Spirit, guiding me and directing me. It feels a little different now than it did when I was eight.

First day of 2nd Grade
Kenneth has been taking the bus to school for the first time. He's not worried about it at all, but I have been making up for the both of us. The bus is supposed to drop him off after school at 2:55pm. Yesterday, it wasn't there at 2:55pm. It wasn't there 10 minutes later, 15 minutes later. My gut started wrenching and I was terrified that Something Had Happened. A hundred different scenarios involving a lost 7-year old worried at me. And then, for some reason, I looked over my mental shoulder and saw that, sitting quietly behind that fear, was peace. 

Yup. Right behind me.

My mind argued with me. How can you feel peace in this situation, it asked? The reality is that KENNETH IS NOT HERE AND PROBABLY SOMETHING TERRIBLE HAS HAPPENED. IT'S NOW 20 MINUTES LATE. THAT PEACE IS A FIGMENT OF YOUR IMAGINATION.

Yikes! Terrible things are happening!
 But I did feel the peace. And I recognized the feeling because I'd had it before. And those situations always worked out. The bus finally arrived (30 minutes late) and all was well.
And they lived happily ever after. At least for that day.

It nearly always is. But the fear persists because I ... well, because I let it.

After the incident, I kept thinking about the spirit of peace I'd had. I may forget the Spirit, but apparently it doesn't forget about me. Nor does it give up on me. Then I realized I hadn't given up on it.

Joseph B. Wirthlin used this quote in a General Conference address:

Genius is only the power of making continuous efforts. The line between failure and success is so fine that we scarcely know when we pass it; so fine that we are often on the line and do not know it...” (author unknown, Second Encyclopedia, ed. Jacob M. Brand, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1957, p. 152).

 Is success a final, permanent end result? As I sit here, I'm trying to wrap my head around the idea that maybe, just maybe, success isn't a destination, but a state of just getting back up and trying again anyway (even if you don't feel like doing it or feel that you are ever going to get good at it).

For he will give unto the faithful line upon line, precept upon precept; and I will try you and prove you herewith. (Doctrine and Covenants 98:12)

And I hope I will be found successful.


Sunday, August 10, 2014

Choices and Consequences - or, Why I Work


I was 37 years old when I married Brian Eddy.

In true LDS fashion, we did not have a reception the evening of our wedding (nudge, nudge, wink wink), but  held two receptions a week later, one in Modesto (my hometown) and one in Bakersfield (his hometown and our residence).

The Modesto reception took place in my old church building where I'd grown up. So many of my friends from times past showed up to celebrate with us. Two of my oldest friends, Christine and Susan, waved me over to their table to talk. "Are you going to ask her?" one said to the other. "Ask me what?" Christine looked at me and, with a smile on her face, asked, "Are you going to do it?"

Susan, me and Christine (and child)

I had been married a week already. They can't possibly mean THAT, I thought. Quick as a wink, I made a silly, slightly off-color remark that hinted it was too late to ask if THAT was what they were talking about. They laughed - "No! Are you going to have kids?"

It was a completely unexpected question. One of the basic tenets of the LDS faith is family and children. I'd always wanted kids and did a quick self-check to ascertain whether or not I'd implied anything to the contrary. "Of course! If I can..." It was one of my fondest hopes to have kids. At this point in my life, I was very aware of my diminishing chances.

During the desert years of my singleness, I'd given a lot of thought to my ideal husband and my future marriage situation. My dreams always were some form of being a stay-at-home mom with a ton of kids, a beautiful home and a perfect life. I wouldn't settle for less than The Ideal Mormon Family.

And then I was 37 years old and very aware of the old biological clock. My standards of 1) Must be a temple-worthy male, 2) Must want children and 3) Must be able to support me as a stay-at-home mom became more ... flexible.

I met Brian in person three weeks after we started writing. We'd agreed to meet halfway between our hometowns in Fresno. We'd go to the zoo and have a picnic lunch on the grounds. Very nice - totally public, very structured, all was good just in case he turned out to be a serial killer.

We had a picnic first - he'd brought sub sandwiches and we talked on a blanket on the grass. He was easy to talk to. At one point in the conversation, I asked him what books he was reading and, in a perfect Monty Python voice, he said, "I'm reading a book on William the BASTARD!" Right then I had the thought, Given the choice, I could marry this guy.

Then he kissed me outside the wolf enclosure at the zoo (fitting, no?) and I knew I'd never meet another man who kissed as well as he did. If he didn't marry me, I was doomed to a future with second-rate kissers.

I weighed the information I had: Brian was divorced (I figured that any guy around my age would have been married before anyway and I preferred that to having never been married). He did not have a college degree (but he was well-read, so that was sort of okay and he could always go to school later). He lived with his sister (well, family is okay). A hefty percentage of his income went towards child support. Uh oh.

Alex and Kenzie - Brian's kids - soon after we married

We talked and talked and emailed and emailed. There's not a ton you can learn about a person in only a few weeks, but there are things you can find out about what type of a person they are. Brian wanted to marry and be married. The divorce was not his choice, but it had been inevitable because of the volatile chemistry he'd had with his ex. I repeat, Brian wanted to be married and was willing to work for a marriage.

Life is all about choices. The weird thing is, they aren't necessarily choices between good and bad. Sometimes they are simply Choice A (with these trials) vs. Choice B (with these trials).  

Although I am dreamy and romantic, there is a solid core of practicality in my heart. I knew myself well enough to know that I wanted to get married and stay married. Divorce was only a last resort. I felt that Brian would be willing to make a marriage with me work. We may not have known each other well. We may have been caught up in the physical tornado that makes up the beginning of a relationship, but we were also two people who'd been hurt by others and were looking for someone we could trust. Because we'd both been so recently hurt, I think we were a little closer to God than we might have otherwise been, like a child who stays close to a parent after having recently been lost then reunited with them.

Only a few weeks later, Brian impulsively asked me to marry him. I answered as though I was listening to my voice from outside my body - yes. (He later made me a much more formal proposal so all was good. Judge him kindly.)

In the church, we are taught to pray about decisions. We are also taught how to recognize answers to our prayers - a stupor of thought if it is wrong and a peaceful feeling if it is right. I felt fine accepting Brian's proposal. That was it. Fine. I felt fine. There were no fireworks or burnings in my heart or spectacular manifestations that OH MY GOSH! HE IS THE ONE AND THIS IS ORDAINED OF GOD. I kind of worried that maybe God was tired of me constantly getting involved with one poor choice after another and was letting me make my proverbial bed and lie in it because He was done saving me from bad choices. I constantly checked for that peaceful feeling ALL THE TIME. I felt fine.

So I chose a man who was good and kind and willing to work towards eternal goals, but was not able to support me financially. 

As I looked at Brian across the altar on our wedding day, I told myself, "This is your last chance to get out of here - it would be dramatic, but it would be better to GET OUT if this is wrong rather than go through it and be miserable and have people say I told you so." Nope. I felt fine. I married Brian.

Nearly a year after our wedding, the little blue line showed up on the test. I was pregnant.

Two months pregnant - no morning sickness yet!
Already my dresses couldn't hold in the bosoms!

When we talked about After The Baby Came, the possible scenarios were grim. No matter what, I was going to have to go back to work. Someone else was going to take care of my little baby. Someone else was going to rock him to sleep and sing him lullabies and make him laugh and hear his first words and witness his first steps. I was going to work. I was not fine.

My father retired from the military when I was twelve years old. From that point on, our family endured years of financial difficulties in the form of unemployment and underemployment. My mother had to work and didn't like it. When I was in high school, my dad found A Good Job, but he had to commute four hours a day. As the eldest, I had a keen sense of the problems of money or the lack of it. Looking back now, I also recognize that our choices in how we cope with situations makes the biggest impact on family life.

I did not take going back to work well. It was not fair after everything else (I imagined) I'd suffered to make it to this point. My education was supposed to be in case of emergency, nothing else. Brian braved my emotions with strength and as much dignity as possible under the circumstances. I tried encouraging (you're a great man! You can find a better job!), cajoling (you'll be much happier if I'm at home), and finally, reminding him of the words of the prophets (wives and mothers should stay at home) - words imperfectly interpreted by a woman in spiritual  pain. I am not proud of how I acted. I hurt my husband with my worries and disappointments. I was not honoring the choices I had made.

The one thing we always have in life, no matter what else, is choice. Agency, the ability or right to choose, is a fundamental principle of the Gospel - one has a choice to either follow God or not follow Him. It's always that simple. I had a choice with marrying Brian: marry him and accept his financial situation or don't marry him and wait for another.

Regardless of the might have been, I DID choose to marry Brian and that meant nothing else mattered afterwards. Was I willing to hold up my end of the bargain with the marriage and work through the hard parts or was I going to make myself and my husband miserable with invective and bitterness?

Again, not all choices we are given are simply good choice vs. bad choice. Important to remember also is that one apparently ideal choice doesn't necessarily mean that life will be all rainbows and unicorns. Jobs can be lost, unexpected expenses can arise, spouses can become disabled, desert or *gulp*, die. YET - and this is a big yet, there is always something good which comes of everything. God makes things as easy for us as possible no matter our choices.

I was able to spend two glorious months with my new little baby, Kenneth Calvin George Eddy. Brian and I loved our little throwy-uppy baby. He was cute, he was funny, he was a joy to his brother and sister. He brought our family together - not just Brian and me, either. He united our extended families and strengthened the ties we had with brothers and sisters and friends and ... well, everyone.

I made the BEST thank you cards for baby gifts

While I hoped for a miracle, none came. On March 19th, 2007, I went back to work at the library, leaving my son with a woman friend who had terrible baby hunger. She told me that watching Kenneth would be the best thing for it as her husband was completely fine with the five children they already had. They lived right by the library and brought him in often.Small graces!

I had two memorable incidents at the library which added to my stress over not being home with my baby. One of my co-workers said, "I stayed home with my children after they were born." I pasted a smile on my face and said, "You were so fortunate! I wish I could be home with Kenneth, too. Unfortunately, our financial situation requires me to work." She continued, "Well, it took a lot of sacrifice for me to be home - we did without a LOT, but it was worth it/better for the kids/some other thing that made me feel awful." I just smiled publicly and cried privately. My co-worker wasn't even LDS and she knew the importance of staying home with her kids. And she knew I was Mormon and was working. Yay for hypocrisy. A second incident happened with a patron. She asked me where I'd been for the last few months. I told her I'd had a baby. She said, "Oh, you should be home with him."  **** you, I thought.

I'd never expected this situation in the choice I'd made to marry Brian. I raged against the Universe for the unfairness of it all. I'd lived a good life - I'd kept myself pure for marriage, I'd gotten an education so I'd be a good mom, I DESIRED to have children and raise them in the Gospel - and all for this? What did I have to show for my efforts?

Dang, he's good-looking. How'd I get so lucky?

I have a husband who is perfect for me in so many ways. There's no way to adequately explain why in this story. It's the sum of a hundred or a thousand little things. Some I can tell people, but some are too private (or incriminating). The feeling I had of peace when I decided to marry Brian has never, ever left me. Occasionally, it's been lost sight of in the mists of my anger or other negative emotion, but that is always my fault. Brian has never wavered and that's not an exaggeration, but rather an indictment of me. I'm very grateful for repentance and a forgiving spouse. 

I have a child who is a special soul. My sister in law has been kind enough to watch Kenneth for me since he was six months old. (My friend moved away) It is a blessing to have family care for your kid - they love him like one of their own and I never have once worried about him like I would have if he was with strangers. Kenneth has also never been clingy - he's out of the car like a shot (bye Mom!) when we pull up to his aunt's house. He even asks to go over there when I stay home with him for a day! Kenneth's personality makes it easy for me to do what I have to do - work to financially support my family.Again, small graces...

It took longer than I'm comfortable admitting, but I'm finally doing fine. My job schedule changed to earlier in the day (8-4:30pm instead of 10-7pm) and it made all the difference. I miss my kid while I'm away at work, but both Brian and I try very hard to make the most of our time together in the evenings and on weekends.  Heavenly Father made a difficult situation as easy on us as He could. It just took me a looooooooong time to see it.

How Brian uses his time with Kiff

So, to answer the question of why I'm a Working Mormon Mom, it's because I have to work, not because I want to. I'm not a martyr and I'm not a paragon. I'm just a person trying to make the best of a situation that has an inherent set of problems and trying to work them out the best I can. I am choosing to make the best of a situation. Fortunately, Heavenly Father is making it as easy as possible for me, too.

My marriage is the product of choices made by two people who made hundreds of other choices which brought them to the point where they asked each other, "Are we willing to make this marriage work?"

And the answer cannot be said loudly enough: yes.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

An Unexpected Journey

My mother married at 19 years old. My grandmother married at 15. I was hoping to be married as early as possible and felt it was my genetic right to do so. My home life growing up was difficult in many ways. As the eldest child of six girls and a boy (he was the caboose), my responsibilities were onerous. It didn't help that both of my parents suffered from depression and anger management issues. Still, they loved me the best they knew how and I have always been grateful that I was taught the Gospel from the minute I was born.

I left home at 18 to go to BYU. I planned on getting married as soon as possible so I would never have to return to family life again. It is painful for me to remember myself during my freshman year, so eager to love and be loved. I didn't realize it then, but I was ill-prepared for any kind of relationship, mostly because I didn't know how to have one. It's even more uncomfortable to remember when I recall a game my roommates and I played at the end of freshman year.

We all got together and made predictions. You know how things like that go - who will be the first married, who will have the most kids, etc. I put down that I would be married second or third of all us (we were six in Heritage Halls). Imagine my mortification when I saw that - without exception - every one of my roommates predicted I'd be married last.

I may have been ignorant of what traits made me unmarriageable, but I knew there was something about me that I had no idea how to fix.

My sophomore year I was a Resident Assistant (RA) in Desert Towers and was flying high on a new-found sense of self-assurance and confidence. I was a queen bee - happy, quick-witted and willing to test the waters of dating (finally). During the first week, I developed an attraction to the most popular guy in the ward. We flirted and danced around each other until the end of the year when I asked him to some Sadie Hawkins-type dance. Our relationship blossomed intensely and I harbored a desperate hope that he was The One. Before we parted ways for the summer, he told me about another girl back home. He told me he'd dated her, but now I'd thrown a monkey wrench into his plans. Yay me!

We wrote over the summer and I remained hopeful. Junior year started for me and I ran into my long-distance lover at the grocery store. With her. He stammered introductions between us and she put her hand possessively over his. Fortunately I looked amazing. He arranged for us to meet the next day and he explained what happened over the summer between the two of them. He asked that we could remain friends. I agreed because I could see no reason to hold a grudge. He expressed hope that I would find someone as well. I blurted out "Oh, it will be a long time for me." What in the world did I just say? It was as though my brain and my mouth were disconnected and I was listening outside of myself.

While I regretted saying the words, I knew they were true and I raged against the sure knowledge of them. How could something like that be true? I was actively searching for a spouse and was a good person. Why shouldn't I find someone?

But I didn't. I was at BYU for five and a half years, completing a degree in Fine Arts - Watercolor. If I thought honestly to myself, I felt that I didn't deserve to get married because all I wanted was security. I didn't know how to take care of myself. I was deathly afraid of not being able to take care of myself. My parents had made their feelings clear about me moving back home. My mother was very disappointed that I did not have a husband. Of course I felt like a failure.

Years passed and during that time I learned a ton. I buoyed up my spirits about being alone by telling myself that, whatever else, my Heavenly Father knew me and knew what I was going through and He had put me in the exact place I needed to be so that I could return to Him.

My desire to have faith in Heavenly Father was often tested by my despair at being unmarried. While I say I despaired, it was always privately. In public, I maintained a veneer of self-assurance and an absolute refusal to bemoan my state. It seemed that in singles wards, there were two types of girls - the haves and the have-nots. The have-nots were the older, often physically less-attractive types. Even though I was put into the have-nots category by others, I was never a bemoaner of my fate. I hated being around other women who complained about not being married or how all the good guys like horrible girls ("She's such a *****!).

It was hardest to maintain my confidence about getting married with my family. One time, when I was in my 30's, my mother said to me, "I hope someday you are as happy as I am with your father." Without missing a beat, I said, "Someday I hope you are as happy as I am." She looked at me like I'd slapped her. It was a very satisfying moment.It was the first time she'd ever considered that someone could be happy in spite of not being married. Ugh. It'd only taken her seventeen years to figure it out.

By now I'd gotten my Master's degree in Library Science and knew I could support myself no matter what. It was a further comfort that I could also support a family in case of the Unthinkable - death, divorce, disability of my future husband. I was feeling better about the idea that I could actually get married. Soon.

I decided to have weight-loss surgery. Looking back now, I know it was a stop-gap measure and something that couldn't be permanent because the reasons for my overweight couldn't be helped surgically. Regardless, the surgery was successful and I felt great. I knew the time was close for me to get married. I just KNEW it.

I saw BS one day at church. He was someone I'd known before ... when he was married. Now he was divorced and I just tingled when I saw him. One thing led to another and we were unofficially engaged in September 2004. Our first kiss was outside the celestial room in the Oakland temple. An auspicious moment that I was sure would be legend in our family. Mom and Dad's first kiss was in the temple. That means it was a match made in heaven!

One day in January of 2005, BS came to my apartment and told me that he loved me, but not enough to marry me. Always a team-player, a go-alonger, a put-a-good-face-on-anything kind of person, I gave him the key to his apartment (it was by my work and I was allowed to stop by and use it for my lunchtimes) and said goodbye. I was devastated.

I talked with my bishop a few days later and while speaking about the end of the relationship in a nonchalant manner, all of a sudden I really did become nonchalant! I didn't feel pain. That feeling that I was going to get married was still there. Obviously, it just wasn't to BS.

About three weeks after BS's announcement to me, I signed up for Within a week I had a string of suitors and beaus. I knew I would, too - it was so weird, that feeling. It was the week before Valentine's Day and I got an email from one particular man. He was from Bakersfield. If you're from California, you'll know that Bakersfield has a bad rap. It is the butt of all jokes. Anyway, he asked for my address so he could send me a card. I gave him my work address because I wasn't stupid enough to give information to probable serial killers. Even Mormon ones.

He sent me a card with glitter on it. And a CD with poetry. Oh my. He wrote poetry?

We started emailing and ....

Reader, I married him.

Brian first emailed me on February 7th, 2005. We got married in the Los Angeles Temple on July 9, 2005. The story of our courtship is another Long Story.

First Peek!
 Suffice it to say, the road Heavenly Father put me on wasn't one I would have chosen for myself or anyone - especially because I knew how long it was going to be (remember my sophomore year revelation?). I am grateful that my faith gave me this little happy ending. Knowing that Heavenly Father knows me is a fundamental part of my testimony and I love it.