Monday, October 27, 2014

Practice

At my deepest point of grief my neighbor Mary saved me with love and yoga.  When Jonah died I stopped eating.  I was too sad to eat. I stopped moving because my heart hurt so much.  My physical and emotional strength was wasting away and Mary could see it.  Before Jonah's death we had not known each other well.  Mary is a few decades older than I am and our paths had not crossed consistently.  But she began calling me on Tuesday evenings.  She would ask me if I wanted to go to our church's free yoga class the following morning. Sometimes I said yes, sometimes I said no, and sometimes I just ignored her calls, but Mary always called.

On the mornings I felt like joining her, Mary would arrive at my doorstep with a smile on her face. She didn't have a yoga mat so she would bring a long green and white cushion from her patio furniture.  As class started she would lay her lumpy cushion alongside my mat and begin moving through the poses. After a few sun salutations and downward facing dogs I would turn to see Mary in child's pose taking a much needed break. Although she enjoyed the class, I knew she was not coming to meet her own needs.  Her choice to come to yoga each week was a choice to support me. She knew I needed to be strong again. She knew I needed help.  

As the weeks passed, and I began saying yes more than no, I began to feel strong again.  It felt good to move and stretch.  I regained my appetite and felt more energy.  As I practiced hard poses my capacity and strength increased.  As I fell out of other poses my muscles began to compensate and correct.  At the end of each class, when I laid flat on the floor in meditation, I found space to reflect and I often cried.  Mary became a dear friend and she carried me until I could carry myself again.  

Now I wake up early in the morning, when the world is still dark, and I drive to a yoga class. I want to practice.  Comparison is frowned on in yoga, but I can't help but strive to move as freely and effortlessly as some of the people in my class.  I watch people in my class move through amazing poses: handstands, headstands, and arm balances. I think about the practice it takes to be able to push your body and gain strength, and to make such things look smooth and easy.  I want to be that strong and graceful. I want to be able to move into the full expression of each pose.  

Each morning when my class is ending and the sun is bringing light into a sleeping world I think about the ideas of practice and full expression.  Everything in life requires practice.  We try and fail and try again until we begin to master the challenges we face.  We look to those who we admire and we follow their lead.  We slowly become better at the things we practice and eventually reach a point where we can move into a fullness of understanding or action or love.  

I'm trying to carry these ideas into my religious practice.  I have been trying to visualize what it looks like to fully express christ-like attributes like love, compassion, and service. I want these ideas to shape who I am trying to become.  When I think about the fullest expression of charity I will always think of Mary, stretching into a difficult pose, on her green and white patio cushion, carrying me through my heartache to a place of health and healing.  


I believe that we learn by practice. Whether it means to learn to dance by practicing dancing or to learn to live by practicing living, the principles are the same. In each, it is the performance of a dedicated precise set of acts, physical or intellectual, from which comes shape of achievement, a sense of one's being, a satisfaction of spirit. One becomes, in some area, an athlete of God. Practice means to perform, over and over again in the face of all obstacles, some act of vision, of faith, of desire. Practice is a means of inviting the perfection desired.

Martha Graham

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The River

Two nights ago I woke up to the gentle motion of the river's current lifting and lowering my body. My feet pressed firmly against the tightly inflated tube of our raft and I sat up.  The hot dry canyon air lingered from another sweltering day on the river, waiting to cool until just before sunrise.  I reached out in the darkness and was surprised to feel the rough grit of sandstone against my fingers.  We must have drifted in the night, I thought. We are pressed against a cliff. A moment of panic filled me, and I glanced up searching for the reassuring light of vivid stars or the spotlight full moon from our previous nights on the river.  But the night was only black.  I looked more fervently trying to maneuver beyond whatever overhang was obstructing my view, but I only found more darkness and complete stillness.

Gradually dim horizontal stripes illuminated the wall behind me. My hand moved up the canyon wall and as it did the grit beneath my fingers became smooth.  The lines of light rested on my hand, and the heavy-duty waterproof tube beneath my feet began to feel soft and fuzzy. I could hear the faint sound of an engine approaching as the light intensified.  I turned to look at the source of the light and began to see the familiar angles of my bedroom window, the framed photo of Jonah on my dresser, and the wool Pendleton blanket beneath my feet.  A car sped by outside, the light disappeared, and I found myself alone, crouched on the edge of my bed feeling completely disoriented.

In the morning the feeling lingered. I couldn't help but wonder why my subconscious mind remained on the river.  Jordan and I just returned from a 10-day commercial river trip working as unpaid crew through the Grand Canyon.  It was majestic and exciting.  But I have never spent a vacation working so hard.  Each day we woke up at 5:00 am as the night sky faded into dawn.  We made breakfast, lunch, and dinner for 30 people amid blowing sand and blazing heat.  We cleaned dishes and moved the groover (toilet).  Twice a day we loaded and unloaded cots, chairs, bags, tables, and dutch ovens.  We baked in the sun and watched our fingers turn to prunes after hours of torrential rain. We held tight through 8 days of rapids and felt our skin harden and peel in the dry heat of the canyon.  We fell asleep each night, creating makeshift beds across the hard metal frames of the raft. On our final day as we motored off the river towards Lake Mead my body was ready to come home. My muscles ached, and my face was ravaged, but my heart and mind could have stayed much longer.

The day we launched on the river was July 14th.  It would have been Jonah's 4th birthday.  In the past I have found joy and peace in sharing this day with everyone I know.  I have felt that the power of collective memory and mass observance would carry me through and make Jonah's short life more meaningful.  It has meant a lot to me to know that people still remember him and think of him.  But this year was different.  Instead of posting on Facebook or writing on this blog I sat next to my husband in the sandy quiet beauty of Redwall Cavern.  As people milled around and took photos we talked quietly about our little boy, and wondered what kind of 4 year old he would be.  We said how much we missed him and love him and then returned to the river.  It was a simple conversation in a beautiful place shared with the only person who loves Jonah exactly the way I do. And it felt like enough to me.

I recognize now that the river provided a much needed escape from my daily struggles.  A place where few people knew my story and my heartache; where I could remain anonymous amongst the rapids. A place where I could lay in solitude beneath endless layers of stars and satellites and simply contemplate their beauty until sleep took precedence.   A place where doctors appointments and life's trials faded behind more basic needs like food and shelter and safety.  I found as I immersed myself in the canyon I was forced into the present moment. My thoughts stayed in the stretch of river that laid before me, with no anticipation of what would come around each bend.  I lost any sense of time or sequence or obligation.  I surrendered to the experience, disconnected, and let the river carry me.  It felt like the purest form of freedom.  A freedom that is not easily forgotten or abandoned.


The Peace of Wild Things
by Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me 
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

 

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Answers


On Sunday morning I drove to church with tears blurring my vision and waves of sadness crashing over me.  I was in the midst a full blown meltdown in the car.  I gasped for air as my shoulders shook, and my cheeks became a growing delta of salt and makeup. It was dangerous.  I couldn't seem to keep the tears from coming so I made a quick detour and ended up at Jonah's grave, a safe a quiet place to cry. I parked the car, grabbed a tissue, crumbled at his headstone and wept tears of true and deep sorrow.  

That morning a subtle change in a pinkish line on a home pregnancy test signaled another impending miscarriage and another failed round of IVF.  More prayers spoken and seemingly lost in the ether between heaven and earth.  More heartache upon an ever growing stack of heartache.  More money down the drain.  And yet another opportunity to meltdown in the car.  

As I sat in my Sunday best on the slightly wet lawn of the cemetery I felt alone.  Of course I felt intense disappointment, but I recognized that the root of my emotion was a sense of being unheard and forsaken.  

When Jonah passed away I felt everything so deeply.  The pain was heavy, but it was matched with a lightness of peace and perspective that was transcendent.  The grief seemed endless, but so did God's love for me.  I felt heartbroken, but I did not feel forsaken. As time has passed the emotions have become less extreme, more subtle, and more easily veiled by life's everyday distractions.  And so I find myself wondering sometimes if God is still there and if He knows me.  

I asked those questions aloud as I contemplated the difficult path that Jordan and I have travelled for the past 4 years.  I wondered if I had missed some signal that would have led us down a smoother way.  I begged God to show me His hand in my life.  I asked Him to make his influence clear to me, even unmistakeable.  I knew that if I could be reminded of His presence, and know of His love for me, I could keep trying.  Once my face was sufficiently red and puffy, and every word of frustration and pain was uttered, I pulled myself together and finished my interrupted journey to church.  Then I spent about an hour in the hallway and the bathroom trying to hide the evidence of a tumultuous morning.  

The next morning I had my blood drawn, and by afternoon my intuition and the fading pregnancy were confirmed.  I received the news at work and felt sufficiently numb to continue through meetings and menial tasks without much emotion.

But when I got home I found a simple white envelope waiting for me on the table.  It contained a beautiful letter from a woman, a mother, I've never met.  She told me that she visited the Sacred Gifts exhibition at BYU and saw our story about loving and losing Jonah on the IPad app.  As she listened to me talk about Jonah, she knew instantly about his genetic condition because 6 months ago she gave birth to a little boy with Treacher Collins Syndrome.  She wrote with such love of how my testimony and experience touched her heart and also answered her prayers.  Then she wrote these words:

I hope that this note is something that can strengthen your testimony and reminds you that the Lord has a divine purpose and plan for all of us.  I also hope this note reassures you that prayers are truly answered, because you were an answer to ours.

I knew as I read those words that she had been inspired to write them.  I began to weep again, this time because I felt truly and uniquely known in a vast and endless universe.  I recognized that this answer was inspired by God, penned by the hand of a loving mother, and delivered to my doorstep on the very day I needed it.  I could not deny the beauty and power of such a quiet miracle. Her words echoed exactly the essence of my heartfelt and desperate plea from the previous morning, words whispered in the solitude of a sacred space.  

As I read and cried, the peace I sought poured over me and I knew, as I have known before, that God is a God of love.  I could feel His love for me, especially in the midst of pain.  I felt sure that my prayers had been answered even while disappointment lingered.  I felt gratitude creep past my resentment, and a fledgling hope remove the fears that were circling my heart.  I envisioned in my mind a beautiful cycle of sincere prayers lifting up towards heaven and being redirected gracefully and purposefully towards the hearts and minds of ordinary people who need answers, who need each other, and who need to feel known in the universe.  


Though we are incomplete, God loves us completely. Though we are imperfect, He loves us perfectly. Though we may feel lost and without compass, God's love encompasses us completely. ... He loves every one of us, even those who are flawed, rejected, awkward, sorrowful, or broken.  

Dieter F. Uchtdorf

Sunday, October 20, 2013

False Summit

When I first started hiking mountains with Jordan I was continually fooled by the false summit.  Surely this is the end, I would think.  Just a few more switchbacks, then one last scramble to the summit.  

I lacked strength and endurance, so after hours of switchbacks and rock scrambling my eyes would settle on the closest rocky peak. Time after time I would tap into what seemed like my final reserve of energy to scale the peak ahead, only to gain a new perspective.  Once we attained higher ground it would become clear that the true summit was merely hidden from our view, and was still distant.  A false summit always looks like the highest point, until you reach it.

Two weeks ago I thought we had reached a summit in our lives.  After two years of doctor's appointments, surgical procedures, $20,000, countless blood draws, and even more shots I spent an anxious afternoon waiting for a phone call.  I tried to distract myself by folding laundry, napping, and cleaning, but my anxiety was palpable and coursed through me.  When the phone call finally came, the nurse gave me the news I had hoped for.  I was pregnant.  My hormone levels looked fantastic, higher than expected, and I felt so grateful.

Now two weeks later the blood draws continue, but the phone calls have changed.  My hormone levels are dropping.  The doctor has taken me off my medication.  This week promises a painful miscarriage instead of a healthy growing baby; a false summit and more mountains to climb.

I knew this was a possibility.  I knew that a positive could become a negative.  I knew that it was still early.  But I had so much hope, we both did.

I prayed for a different outcome.  I did everything within my power to improve our chances.  I endured shots every morning, and sometimes at night.  I didn't eat blue cheese or deli meat.  I took prenatal vitamins, and baby aspirin, and fish oil tablets.  And yet I find myself on a foothill, and can't help but wonder if I have been climbing the wrong mountain all this time.

I have discovered when you arrive at a false summit your choices are limited, but you still have choices.

You can decide that the path ahead of you is too difficult, too dangerous, too steep, or too far.  Or maybe you are just too tired of trying.  You can abandon the time and energy you have invested, and the goal you have set, and return to your starting point. Sometimes starting over is necessary.

You can rest.  Sometimes you just need to take a break, eat a snack, and replenish your reserves. Often we are replenished by stopping our frantic efforts, reflecting on the distance we've gained, and then taking a moment to see the beauty around us.

Finally, you can choose to acknowledge the reality of the situation, and continue on.  You can accept the reality that although you have climbed difficult peaks there are more to come.  You can cling to the knowledge that there is strength and endurance to be gained by continuing on a difficult path.  You can hold to the promises of those who have reached the summit.  The promise that the true journey's end will be worth the pain and struggle.

Last Tuesday I had a breakdown.  It was the usual kind, full of questions, tears, and disappointment. But I found that I could not sustain my tears, and that my questions felt hollow.  I recognized them as questions that I've asked before; questions that have been answered.  I am finding it harder to dwell in this heartache, because I know that God will lift me out of it.  I feel like I should be devastated, but instead I feel faithful and hopeful.

I don't know where Jordan and I are headed.  I don't know how many false summits we will have to climb, but I do know that I am stronger than I used to be.  I know that I want to keep climbing with Jordan.  I am wiser than I was before.  I am really tired, but I am not finished.

Today I have chosen to rest.  I feel overwhelmed by the idea of moving forward.  But today I can rest and recognize the distance I have traveled, the strength I have gained, and the new perspective that comes even at the peak of a false summit.





Sunday, September 29, 2013

Negotiations

Today it has been two years.  Two years since Jonah's sweet spirit left his beautiful little body.  Two years since I last sang him a lullaby and held him in my arms.  Two years since we had a busy little toddler creating chaos in our home.  Oh, how we miss our Jonah.

The last two years have been filled with sorrow and disappointment; work and struggle; peace and hope.  We have cried a lot, prayed a lot, and loved more deeply because of our loss.  We have hoped for more children and endured difficult setbacks.  We have served in new ways, met new people, and found a new kind of happiness to hold onto.

Today I have been reflecting on how my heart has been changed by the experience of losing my son.  My thoughts keep returning to the way I pray to my Heavenly Father.  My approach, my practice, and my purpose have shifted. 

I used to be a negotiator.  When life became challenging, or I wanted something deeply I would begin the process of bargaining with God.  My prayers went something like this.

 Dear Heavenly Father, I really want (to ace this test, to buy this house, to get this job, etc.)  
If you give me this I will (read my scriptures, say my prayers, serve others, etc.)

Or, I would promise to give something up (swearing, skipping church, lying, drinking coke, etc.)  It was a naive exchange of efforts and blessings.  The amazing thing is, that although I often fell short on the promises I made, my prayers were answered, and I felt like God knew me and loved me.   Looking back, I feel like even though my prayers were imperfect, and sometimes selfish, they came from a place of sincerity and represented my simple yet imperfect understanding of God and his ways.  This is a testament to me that life is not about perfection, but about learning.

When Jonah died, my prayers changed.  

I began asking God to give me understanding, to bless me with patience, to help me feel strong again. The thing is I felt like I had nothing to offer in return.  I was weak, broken, and struggling.  I had to abandon my previous technique, because I couldn't even get out of bed.  How could I promise to do my visiting teaching?  So I just asked God to bless me, not because of my works or my promises, but because He loved me.  And He did.  In the past two years He has blessed me with all of the things I have asked for; with love and patience and strength and incredible peace -- a peace that surpasses understanding.  

Now after two years of learning how to pray, I find myself wanting something so badly.  I want to be a mother again.  I want to see Jordan be a father again; He is such a good father.  I want another chance.  I find myself praying earnestly and fervently for God to grant us the opportunity to be parents again.  But something has changed in me. 

I no longer negotiate with God; I trust Him.  I no longer use the covenants and promises I have made as a bargaining chip.  As I pray to my Heavenly Father, I ask for the things I desire most, and then I promise Him that no matter what the outcome I will do my best to keep my covenants.  And I mean it.  I will mourn with those that mourn.  I will comfort those that stand in need of comfort.  I will be faithful and loyal to my husband.  I will care for my parents and siblings.  I will clothe the naked, feed the hungry, visit the sick.  I will give everything I have to Him, not because He is a genie that grants wishes.  Although, I believe all good gifts come from Him.  Not because I'm afraid of everlasting punishment or damnation for falling short.  But because I love Him, and because I am His daughter. 

On this two year anniversary I am astounded that my heart feels whole again. My life has not been restored to what it once was.  It has been transformed.  I don't have everything I hope for, but I find myself genuinely laughing, and smiling.  The day Jonah died I feared that Jordan would stop loving me and that our relationship would crumble.  And yet we are stronger and more in love than we have ever been.  

As we left the hospital on September 29, 2011 I was sure I would never feel true happiness again.  Life would only be an exercise in endurance and pain.  And yet happiness is here.  It is in my home and in my heart. 

Now when I review my negotiations with God they seem so petty.  The exchange has always been so lopsided.  I hoped for small temporary blessings in exchange for a temporary change of heart.  Now, I hope for something more, something eternal.  I promise to give Him my whole heart, and I know that he will fill it until it overflows with love, and hope, and peace, and laughter, and joy. 


My dear sisters, the Lord allows us to be tried and tested, sometimes to our maximum capacity. We have seen the lives of loved ones, and maybe our own, figuratively burned to the ground and have wondered why a loving and caring Heavenly Father would allow such things to happen. But he doesn't leave us in the ashes; he stands with open arms, eagerly inviting us to come to him. He is building our lives into magnificent temples where his spirit can dwell eternally.  Linda S. Reeves



P.S. This was all on my mind before watching the General Relief Society broadcast last night.  I was so inspired by their messages about making a keeping covenants, and so grateful for the incredible spirit I felt as they shared their messages.   If you missed it, watch it here.