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Saturday, April 25, 2009

To Be Held

Last night I was at the grocery store picking up a few items. When I turned down the ice cream isle, I found I was sharing it with another woman, her elementary-aged daughter, and their stroller. I glanced quickly at the sleeping baby as I reached for the Double Strawberry ice cream, only to then realize that her stroller was a double, cradling a second sleeping baby behind the first. Twins. My heart skipped a beat as I envied her abundance and wondered if she knew how blessed she was. There was a physical ache that seemed to run from my heart to my arms as I looked at her beautiful babies. I wanted to tell her how beautiful they were, but the way my heart's rhythm had suddenly increased, I knew that forming the words would initiate a total meltdown there among the ice cream. It all happened so fast, I'm sure she wasn't even aware that I was there, let alone the angst that was oozing out of my heart wishing to have my twins here, whose story is so much different than hers. 

I had to be very careful how I worded that last sentence. Our stories are different, this is true. But, I almost wrote "whose stories ended much differently." But, the truth that keeps my heart pumping is that our twins' story has not ended. And, while I clearly feel pain and sadness at how different my story is from this other woman's, there is another side to the bitter pain and heartache that gives our story an enviable sweetness.

Having experienced new depths of disappointment and agony, and having made it through some very dark and lonely nights, I now know things I didn't know before; things I couldn't have known any other way. I have experienced heaven's comfort in such tangible ways that have been burned into the fibers of my soul. There is no doubt in my mind or in my heart that through this nightmare I have been held, I have been carried, I have been understood, I have been loved and cared for by the One person who can truthfully say, "I know, because I have walked the path you're walking now."

I still have moments when shock and panic hit me with such a force that it feels like it all happened yesterday. And, I find myself getting trapped in wondering why things had to take the course they took and how I'm expected to survive living to a ripe old age with this pain of loss plaguing my heart. In some ways time does bring healing, and I have to hope that that'll continue to ring true. But, I have to constantly remind myself that it's only in falling, in losing, in suffering that I can truly learn the lengths the Savior will go to pick me up and make me whole again. And, recognizing that His lows far exceed any lows I have or will ever experience has only deepened my awe and gratitude towards Him.

The last year of my life has made me rich in experience and understanding of His love and atonement on a very personal level. And, though I'm still tempted with thoughts that I was denied a miracle, I am reminded that God has kept His promises to me. He never promised me that I wouldn't fall, that I wouldn't hurt, that I'd be free from disappointment and pain... BUT, He did promise that He would carry my burden, that He would run to me in my hour of need, that He would not leave me comfortless, that He would heal my broken heart. Even in my lowest of moments, not even then have I felt abandoned by Him. And, I know one day I'll get a much clearer glimpse of how much I really have been carried through this period.

Not too long ago I came across a beautiful song that expresses so much of what I've felt lately. I'm grateful for my hardest trials that have taught me what it means to be loved, to be held. Without them, I wouldn't know with the surety I know of the reality of a loving God. If there ever was doubt, there is none now.

Natalie Grant - Held

Two months is too little.
They let him go.
They had no sudden healing.
To think that providence would
Take a child from his mother while she prays
Is appalling.

Who told us we'd be rescued?
What has changed and why should we be saved from nightmares?
We're asking why this happens
To us who have died to live?
It's unfair.

This is what it means to be held.
How it feels when the sacred is torn from your life
And you survive.
This is what it is to be loved.
And to know that the promise was
When everything fell we'd be held.

This hand is bitterness.
We want to taste it, let the hatred numb our sorrow.
The wise hands opens slowly to lilies of the valley and tomorrow.

This is what it means to be held.
How it feels when the sacred is torn from your life
And you survive.
This is what it is to be loved.
And to know that the promise was
When everything fell we'd be held.

If hope is born of suffering.
If this is only the beginning.
Can we not wait for one hour watching for our Savior?

This is what it means to be held.
How it feels when the sacred is torn from your life
And you survive.
This is what it is to be loved.
And to know that the promise was
When everything fell we'd be held.
This is what it is to be loved.
And to know, that the promise was when everything fell, we'd be held
This is what it means to be held.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Sunday leisurely reading

Last week in Relief Society I taught Lesson 31, which ended up being a very overwhelming task. I'm happy to report that I survived working the DVD player and never once did my knees crumble beneath me. In my preparation for that lesson, I came across two talks that have been on my mind a lot for the last couple of weeks, and thought I might share them here for your Sunday leisurely reading. They are very much worth your time.

They have brought a measure of comfort and understanding to my heart, even confirming to my soul that some words truly can heal a wounded heart. I'm grateful for the examples of really good people who have gone through really difficult trials; for the things I can learn from them and the comfort of knowing I'm in good company. 

Here's a small taste of the first talk by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, given at a CES fireside last year, Lessons from Liberty Jail

But tonight’s message is that when you have to, you can have sacred, revelatory, profoundly instructive experience with the Lord in any situation you are in. Indeed, let me say that even a little stronger: You can have sacred, revelatory, profoundly instructive experience with the Lord in the most miserable experiences of your life—in the worst settings, while enduring the most painful injustices, when facing the most insurmountable odds and opposition you have ever faced.

Now let’s talk about those propositions for a moment. Every one of us, in one way or another, great or small, dramatic or incidental, is going to spend a little time in Liberty Jail—spiritually speaking. We will face things we do not want to face for reasons that may not have been our fault. Indeed, we may face difficult circumstances for reasons that were absolutely right and proper, reasons that came because we were trying to keep the commandments of the Lord. We may face persecution; we may endure heartache and separation from loved ones; we may be hungry and cold and forlorn. Yes, before our lives are over we may all be given a little taste of what the prophets faced often in their lives. But the lessons of the winter of 1838–39 teach us that every experience can become a redemptive experience if we remain bonded to our Father in Heaven through that difficulty. These difficult lessons teach us that man’s extremity is God’s opportunity, and if we will be humble and faithful, if we will be believing and not curse God for our problems, He can turn the unfair and inhumane and debilitating prisons of our lives into temples—or at least into a circumstance that can bring comfort and revelation, divine companionship and peace.

The second talk is by Elder Neal A. Maxwell, given more than 30 years ago, also at a CES fireside, Take up the Cross:

Just as no two snowflakes are precisely alike in design, so the configuration of life's challenges differs also. Some of our experiences are not fully shareable with others. Thus, others, try as they may, cannot fully appreciate them. They must trust us, our generalizations and testimonies concerning these experiences. A few of our experiences should not even be shared. But it is useful to ponder the past examples of our partners on the pathway. 

In the midst of some of these individualized challenges, however, we may cry out on our small scale as the Savior did on the cross, or as the Prophet did in Liberty Jail. Being in agony, we will pray more earnestly, for cries of agony are not the same as cries of despair. 

Our individual experiences may not always be unique, but they are always authentic. God will even take into account our perceptions of, as well as our responses to, our trials. For those of us who do not, for instance, find claustrophobia a challenge, it is difficult to measure the terror that comes to those for whom it is such a challenge. Thus, a friend may seem to struggle unnecessarily long before finally prevailing with regard to a particular principle of the gospel. But for that individual, the struggle was real enough! We need, particularly, to understand with kindness those who are asked o go out to do battle again on a familiar field--on the very battleground where they have already suffered defeat several times. Yet some of our most difficult victories will occur on new terrain--like Joseph's in Egypt--when we do not have the equivalent of a "home court" advantage. 

We must remember that, while the Lord reminded the Prophet Joseph Smith that he had not yet suffered as Job, only the Lord can compare crosses!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

April's first half - Photo Essay

Day at the beach - finding treasures, chasing waves, exploring a lighthouse:

Day at the lake  feeding ducks:

Visit to the cemetery with Mandi and Audrey:

Easter lunch with my parents and Yui:

(The most delicious chocolate cake, innovatively made over skype.)

Easter afternoon at the cemetery:

We found that some anonymous angel(s) had left four new bouquets of flowers for our girls.

So simple and so sweet.

We left some fresh tulips and lupin, sure to attract the deer to come visit.

Happy deer, enjoying their own Easter feast.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter Morn

No words today. Just heartthrobs of overwhelming gratitude and love.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Passover Meal

Tonight we enjoyed a Passover meal with my parents and Yui, a friend from Japan, who is visiting. The food was delicious and authentic (as far as we know), and enjoying it with family was wonderful. Included in our menu was: matzah (flatbread), haroset (fruit and nut mixture), roasted eggs, bitter herbs, lentil soup, bulgur and onion pilaf, cucumber salad, kalamata olives, cheese, cantaloupe, grapes, and grape juice. We sat on the floor and used the flatbread as our eating utensils. 

This week as we've been reading the events of the final week of the Savior's life, I've reflected again and again, trying to imagine what it might have been like to be there and where I would have stood. Would I have been waiting at the entrance of Jerusalem to welcome Christ? Would I also have laid down palm leaves?

Or at the Last Supper, also a Passover meal, surrounded by Christ and his chosen apostles, would I have understood the magnitude of what was about to happen? When He declared that one among them would betray him, would I have been as humble as John in asking, Is it I?

Or at the cross on that awful Friday afternoon, would I have stood with the other faithful women in the Savior's life? Would I have understood His promise of rising on the third day?

As Sunday morning, Easter morning, approaches I find myself wondering - would I have come eagerly to the empty tomb, anticipating His victory over death? Would I have believed that He would actually do what He prophesied He would do? And, would it have mattered to me?

And with all of these "would I have?" questions, I find these same questions wandering to the present tense...

Where do I stand today? 

Monday, April 6, 2009

Glass Beach and Kaleidoscopes

Two Saturdays ago, when my sister was in town, we spent the day on the coast. There is a beach we always visit. Glass Beach. Its name comes from the tiny pieces of broken glass that are mixed in with the millions of small pebbles that cover the shore. There is some sand further up the shore, but right along the water's edge you'll only find the mixture of smooth rocks and colored glass pieces, that are equally smooth and polished. 

I don't know if my memory betrays me, but every time we go back it seems that there are less and less colors to enjoy. I admit I may have something to do with that... somewhere in an old box, I probably have at least a dozen camera film containers filled with colorful rocks that I collected during my childhood (well... and beyond). Blues and Purples, Reds and Greens. But, sometimes the colorful rocks did get used, rather than collecting dust. Once my dad rigged up some homemade kaleidoscopes, using the colorful glass bits. Seriously amazing.

Anyway, I think this trip may have been the first visit to Glass Beach that I only admired the rocks and left what colors remain to be admired by all the other visitors. 

This past weekend I wasn't at Glass Beach. But, I had this strange sensation that on a different sort of plane, I was wandering down a similar shore. And just like the Glass Beach from my childhood memories, this shore was covered with the most beautiful stones, even mixed in with pure gems and the most valuable of treasures. For two full days, among a limitless array of treasures, I collected as many as my hands and pockets could carry... filled to over-flowing. Now, the task - to arrange them into something beautiful and useful, a sort-of kaleidoscope.

These treasures are much too valuable to sit in an old box, under my bed.