Friday, February 3, 2017


I have been haunted lately by a memory.  It comes to me in quiet moments when my mind seems to wander between to-do lists and crazy politics and craving sleep.  It clears a space for itself amid the clutter to grab my attention and demand my focus.  But it is painful.  This memory brings with it shame and regret and speculation.  I find myself wishing I could reverse it and relive it.  But I can't. So instead I have been trying to pay attention to it and learn from it.  I have never told anyone about this moment other than Jordan, but now I feel compelled to tell it to you.

It happened a couple years ago when I was pregnant with the twins.  Jordan and I had spent most of our savings and all of our emotional strength on trying to bring these babies into existence, and my pregnancy still felt new and vulnerable.  We had ongoing worries about losing the pregnancy and became hyper vigilant in avoiding risk.  I avoided questionable foods, rested abundantly, took all my medications on time, and prayed every night that our babies would arrive safely.

One frigid winter evening Jordan and I stopped at Harmon's to pick up some tasty bread or pumpkin cookies.  I ran into the store while he waited in the car for me.  I grabbed the one or two items that I needed and headed to the check out stand.

I noticed a few things about the woman in front of me. Her little boy sat in the cart in mismatched and threadbare pajamas, his hair hadn't seen a comb for a while and his face was dirty.  He was busy and rambunctious and pushing her to her limit. She snapped at him a few times as he grabbed things off the shelf.  Her appearance matched his, unkempt hair, faded sweats, and an oversized jacket.  But the thing I remember most was an intense weariness in her eyes and across her shoulders.

I stood behind her, waiting patiently, arms resting on my swollen belly.  She purchased her food and left, and without a second thought I did the same.

Then I saw her again. This time just inside the automatic doors, unloading her cart, lining her arms with grocery bags while trying to wrangle her young child.  It became clear that she was preparing to walk home on this bitter winter evening.

Something told me to stop and talk to her.  So I did.  I asked her if she had a car.  She said no.
"Do you live nearby?"
"Yes."  She said.  "A few blocks away."
"Would you like a ride?"

I watched as her burden seemed to lighten, and she thanked me for the offer. "I'm so sick" she said. "I've had bronchitis for a few weeks and can't seem to get better."

Suddenly fear came over me like a wave, starting in my head and moving to my heart.  Sick, I thought.  What if I get sick?  What if something happens to the babies?  Is this safe?  Should I do this?  Although probably irrational the fear of losing the babies overwhelmed me.  I asked her to wait while I talked to Jordan.

Moments later I returned and told her we could not take her home.  I offered a brief explanation about my pregnancy and my fear of getting sick and then turned away.  I don't even remember her reaction. I just remember feeling her presence behind me like a shadow as I walked away.  My fear and shame and sorrow all swirling together yet propelling me out the door into the cold night air.

It has been a couple years since this happened, and I still agonize over the choice. I'm sure she made it home - she didn't live far away.  But I wonder if she felt a little less sure about human kindness because of me. I wonder if she stayed sick a little longer, if she was unkind to her child, if she lost faith she could have gained.  And although I could make a very logical argument for the conflict I felt that night, in my heart I know it was a betrayal of my values and of my spirit.

When this experience visits me I think of the apostle Peter walking on water with the Savior.

And Peter answered him (the Savior) and said, Lord if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water.  And he said, Come.  And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus.  But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me.  And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? (Matthew 14:28-31)

Fishermen at Sea, by JWM Turner

I have always felt empathy for Peter in his imperfect faith.  I relate to his desire to do great things, while being hampered by his own human frailty and fear.

I have also reflected on the call of the Savior to step out of the assumed safety of the boat to follow him.  He simply says "Come" and expects us to move forward through the boisterous wind and waves that create fear in our hearts.  

That cold winter night I was swallowed by the waves.  I sought the safety of the boat rather than heeding the whisper of the Savior to help one of his children.  

Each night Jordan and I pray together.  We pray as a family with Simon and Clara and we pray together as a couple.  In the past I have heard these familiar words come out of my mouth "bless us with safety."  But lately I haven't been able to say them.  As a mother it seems like there should be nothing more that I would want in the world than for my children and my family to be safe. Especially since I know the excruciating pain of losing a child.  But I can't pray for safety anymore.

That night at the grocery store I secured my safety, but I lost a little piece of my soul. I realize now that when I pray, I need to pray to be brave.  Safety will only insulate us from the troubles of the world, and make us feel as if they don't concern us.  Bravery will compel us to act when sadness and sorrow and weariness seem to be as prevalent as the air we breathe.  As I've studied the life of the Savior I've found very little evidence that he is concerned with our temporal safety.  He has always called his followers onto unsteady ground, past dogma and platitudes, and toward his example of healing, cleansing, ministering, and loving.  

So tonight when I kneel to pray with my family, I will let this memory haunt me once again.  Then, instead of asking God to grant me some sort of ubiquitous safety, I will ask him to teach to me to be brave.  

It seems to me that the Savior is saying to each of us that unless we lose ourselves in the service of others our lives are largely lived to no real purpose....He who lives only unto himself withers and dies, while he who forgets himself in the service of others grows and blossoms in this life and in eternity." - Gordon B. Hinckley