Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Greater Than

Last fall, our family took a little jaunt out to the coast. In my pregnant hugeness, I wasn't able to play as much as usual, but I enjoyed the opportunity to sit in the sand and watch my brood chase after the waves.

CPod's family beach condo is in a high rise right on the water. We can see the dusky blue-gray Atlantic from the balcony, and the sea-borne wind whips that unmistakable briny scent into every scrap of fabric within its purview. When we're there, my children smell hot and salty as the essence of primordial water permeates every eyelash, skin cell, toe nail, fingerprint. When you're at the beach, you become the beach -- sun-bleached, sweaty, watermellowed, gritty.

While the boys and their daddy raced the water and dug in the sand, I lounged and photographed and observed, and as I watched my little family interact with the world around us, I found myself completely transfixed by the continuous pound and recession of the waves. Hypnotized, I searched for patterns in the crush of water against sand and each time I thought I might have it figured out, my logic would fail as the wave fell inexplicably far from my prediction.

But not inexplicably.

Those tides were, are, relentless and utterly reliable. They are governed by laws of nature that stretch the limits of both our solar system and my intellect. Detailed and complicated equations, formulated and refined by generations of marvelous scientific minds, calculate with accuracy the highest and lowest possible points of a tide on a given beach, as well as the time, every 12.5 hours or so, when that low or high will occur. High tide on one coast generally means low tide on another one as the entire volume of oceanic water performs a dance of give and take, hips swaying gently from one continent to another. It all depends on the interplay of lunar and solar gravity, with a dash of terrestrial rotation. Throw in local weather and some overarching atmospheric patterns and you get an infinitely variable but still miraculously predictable life-sustaining system.

I learned a new word: syzygy. Syzygy. Syzygy (say it -- you'll like it: si-zuh-gee) occurs when the stars are all aligned: average tides happen when the sun, earth, and moon form a right angle, with our tiny planet in the corner. But when our three governing celestial bodies end up aligned, pretty maids all in a row, new moon and full, we see the highest of high tides, the lowest of low. Syzygy is that wave's moment -- the one time when it can reach a little higher, a little farther, touch a little more dry sand with its briny fingers.

Sometimes, I get there, too. Last month, I played Copland's Appalachian Spring with the symphony. The piece is lovely and impressive and a definite crowd favorite. Copland was a genius of orchestration, and his simple but powerful inclusion of the old Shaker hymn "Simple Gifts" in a piece that truly speaks the majestic language of my mountains nearly brings me to tears every time I hear it. But the true gem is in the transition to "Simple Gifts" -- a mere 8 measures of collective breathing as the entire strings section gently sighs three simple chords, first up high, then lower. I hear as much in the silence of those measures as I do in the notes, and sometimes, if all of my celestial bodies are standing where they should be, if all of my symphonic cohorts are focused, reaching, listening, we transcend, we breathe as one organism, we weep the chords through the rills and waterfalls of our beloved home and touch a little more dry sand.

I've wondered lately how many moments of syzygy I have missed because I haven't been paying attention, or I've been focused on the wrong horizon. Some of those missed opportunities won't come around again, but I'm hoping for some second chances at reaching my potential.

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Monday, June 14, 2010

Some Southern Gospel Perspective

A while back my friend Melanie J asked me why I think our church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, grows so slowly in the South. I've been mulling this question over for a few months now, and I think I've come up with a pretty good answer.

But first: my street cred.

I was born in North Carolina, raised in North Carolina, and, except for the three years it took me to get a degree from BYU, I have lived in the southern states for all of my 33 years, including four years in Memphis, TN for my husband's postsecondary education, and some time in South Carolina.

I was also raised a member of the LDS church -- we are more commonly referred to as Mormons. Young Mormon missionaries knocked on my parents' door a few years before I was born, and when they decided to be baptized, they grabbed on for dear life and never looked back.

So. I know the South. I know the Mormon faith. And I think I understand a little why they don't mix too well. I speak from experience, but without authority. Take my words with a grain of salt, and know that my opinions are just that: opinions.

I live in a smallish town -- we have chain restaurants and even a little mall, but we do not have a high crime rate, any buildings taller than the courthouse, or a freeway with more than two lanes in each direction. What we do have is a Baptist church on every corner. Without looking at the phone book, I can count . . . fourteen just within a few miles of my house. If we add in Methodists, the big Catholic church downtown, a couple of Presbyterians, the Lutheran church attached to my kids' preschool, and several Seventh-Day Adventists, it starts to look like Utah, only varied.

People already have religion here -- and they are devout, faithful, loving people. They love the same Jesus Christ that I do. They take meals to sick people just like I do. They send their kids to Sunday School just like I do. They read their Bibles every day just like I try to do. They set excellent examples of good Christian service. But they don't want anything new.

This is not to say there are not small-minded individuals here and there who do their part to discourage members and investigators alike from attending. There are certain congregations here, and all through the north, south, east and west, whose pastors notoriously preach against the LDS faith. They arm their congregants with pamphlets and talking points to use should they encounter a Mormon, but there isn't as much of that going on as you might think. Too often, those people are friends with a good Mormon family or two and the stuff they hear at church just doesn't jive with the things they know from experience.

And what is that experience? I have found the people I go to church with here to be an extremely interesting and diverse group. In our congregation, we have business executives, doctors, nurses, and pharmacists. We have retired soldiers, entrepreneurs, and politicians. We have factory workers, musicians, builders, and artists. Members of our ward (Mormon-ese for congregation) are involved in community organizations and local charities; they have children in the schools and own retirement homes on the golf courses (almost as numerous as the Baptist churches); they represent the Gospel well (or sometimes not) in nearly every corner of this little town. We are normal people. (However. I must insert here that we have our fair share of crazy people -- and they aren't always the best PR for the church. But every church has crazy people! They make the world go 'round!)

But, boy, let me tell you, we work hard. My sister serves as head of the Young Women's organization in her little branch out in the mountains. Her husband serves in the Branch Presidency, which is the local leadership. He also works with the Cub Scouts in their church-sponsored troop, while she teaches seminary (religious education for high school students) one night a week to the far-flung youth of their branch.

Here, visiting and home teaching routes sometimes cover a distance of 60 miles (or more!) and 10 families (or more!).

One of my best friends began coming to church here when my twins were newborn. I was also serving as the Young Women's president and my husband was Young Men's president. We ran around that church building juggling babies and tossing diapers back and forth down the halls while teaching classes, managing the inevitable teenager crises, and planning activities (a trip to Nauvoo, no less!) for the 35 or so youth of our ward. She later told me that while I looked like someone she might like to know, I was way to busy for her to "bother" me. 

And if I'm being honest, I'm not sure I would do it if I didn't already know it's true. To join a church where you have to work hard to keep the work going may be a little off-putting to someone who hasn't received a witness. Being a member of this church requires a level of commitment that some people are just not willing to give. Especially if they've already got religion.

And especially if that religion is truly a way of life: many people are so heavily involved in their church communities on a social level that being baptized into the LDS church really feels like a divorce from all of their friends. When your family, friends, neighbors, and childhood confidants still go to the same church on the corner where you have gone since you were born, it's a really big deal to start going someplace else.

But people do it. People change their lives -- the Gospel changes their lives. It certainly has changed mine.

Any questions? Any further insights? Please share!

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Sunday, June 13, 2010

Bright Future

The only picture I took during the entire weekend of the CBC:

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Wednesday, June 2, 2010

For This Child I Prayed

I don't usually teach Gospel Doctrine, so when I have to substitute for my brother's class, I tend to over-prepare. I'll be the first to admit I'm a little intimidated by the breadth of material covered by these Old Testament lessons, and heaven forbid I should disprove my know-it-all reputation by failing to cross-reference every footnote in the reading material.

I began preparing for a lesson on the later chapters of 1 Samuel by reading Hannah's story at the beginning of the book. It had been a rough day with the boys, especially G-Dog. Though he is a twin, he is still consistently dominant and takes on the role of oldest child. He tends to amplify the intensity of any situation, good or bad: when things are going well, he thrives on the praise he receives for his good choices, but when we're at odds, he has a tendency to keep pushing until one or both of us spirals out of control. I am the adult. I should not lose it, but the reality is that sometimes I lose my cool and it's almost always over something G-Dog has done, or won't do, or won't stop doing. I am not proud of this.

I have always felt a certain kinship with the many infertile women of the Old Testament, and found a certain solace in the use of barrenness as a metaphor, but I had never taken notice of Hannah before. After enduring years of childlessness, she pleads for a son, vowing to give him to the Lord. The Lord opens her womb, and after her Samuel is weaned, she delivers him to Eli at the temple so that he might be trained in the ways of the Priesthood.

She says: "For this child I prayed; and the Lord hath given me my petition which I asked of him: Therefore also I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he liveth he shall be lent to the Lord. And he worshipped the Lord there." (See 1 Samuel 1:27-28)

I got hung up on that first verse: "For this child I prayed: and the Lord hath given me my petition which I asked of him."

And I could not help thinking of G-Dog. For this child, I prayed. For this child, I begged, pleaded, bargained, wept, despaired. For this child, I endured needles, probes, surgeries, heartache, frustration, desolation, drugs, pain, and indignities. And the Lord hath given me my petition which I asked of him.

And then I heard a voice. "He is mine," it said. "He is mine." I knew then that this child, who is my toughest, who is a challenge harder to handle than the seven years of infertility we endured before he was born, is loved, watched, cradled, cherished by the Lord.

I am now exactly where I wanted to be: my babies all slumbering in the next rooms, husband asleep at my side, life full of people I love and time occupied by worthy projects. And yet. Time and again those things are not enough to motivate me to choose better. To be better.

This child -- all of these children -- lent to me but for a short space, are my teachers more than I am theirs. I wonder that their noble spirits were given to me, a most unworthy mother, and pray that this petition, too, will be heard by the Lord: that I will be equal to the challenge. That I will not damage them with my lack of patience. That I will be humbled -- finally, by strong-willed children who can teach me to rely on the Lord more than I have ever had to. That we may all grow together. That I can be like Hannah, and recognize in my little ones the spark of divine.

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