Summer doesn't feel much like summer around here. Alek leaves for a month, so that doesn't help me feel the happy, celebratory way I want to feel about the season. Charlie and Fitz go to summer school. And we don't usually take a vacation (see last year for the exception). However, we do grill a lot and the kids play in the sprinklers. And it's really hot. So we get some of the normal summer stuff in. This summer:
Fitz and Jane became better buddies.
We had a semi-lame Fourth of July, with super delicious food.
Josh and I moved to California over 8 years ago, a decision made through much discussion and prayer that brought joy to Josh and sorrow to me. I did not want to move from Arizona, where, at the time, my mom and all but one of my siblings lived. I didn't want Josh to quit school. I didn't want to move in with in-laws, especially since I barely knew them. And I knew the reason we were supposedly moving -- for Josh to start a business with his brother, Rich -- was not the reason we were moving at all and that in fact, would never come to pass. But God had said go.
So we went. And I didn't understand it and I didn't like it. And I didn't like not understanding it.
A few months after we moved here, I was asked to serve as Sunday School teacher to the 14-18 year olds in my ward. During my setting apart (a blessing given by a member of the congregation's leadership specific to the role you're taking on), the bishopric counselor said that I should not be troubled by my doubts, but that doubt was a part of the journey of faith.
This took me by surprise -- partly because this bishopric member had no way of knowing I was struggling with doubts, but mostly because it was such a new concept to me. I had always thought of doubt as being such a negative thing, a feeling to avoid experiencing at all costs, a tool of Satan. Doubt was the opposite of faith. How could it be a part of the journey?
However, even though it was a new concept and even though I didn't completely understand what was being conveyed, I knew it was true. I let it sit and settle in my mind, and I've thought about it often over the years. I've brought it up to friends and family from time to time and have collected pieces of insight to help illuminate the meaning.
Since the end of last year, I have been struggling with greater doubts than I have ever experienced before. I have had so many questions arise for which I did not have answers. My whole life I have heard and read negative things about the church, its leaders (past and present) and its members, but besides inducing feelings of sorrow such things never had a negative impact on me. Until last year. Suddenly, things that had never bothered me before were bothering me. I felt an agitation I couldn't shake. I started experiencing bad feelings towards some of my fellow members, something I had always been able to avoid in the past. I began to have questions to which I could not find satisfactory answers. My chest often felt tight. My mind was confused. Worst was feeling that I was losing all sense of self. My certainty was such a huge part of my identity. To not be sure, to have questions, to have doubt to this degree caused me to hate myself more than I had ever hated myself before. And believe me, I've known a fair amount of self-hatred over the years.
I was scared. Scared that I was losing my faith, the thing on which I had built my life, the understanding that informed all my most important decisions.
In the midst of all this, I could have given up. I saw how easy it would be to stop going to church, to stop paying tithing, to give in to worldly values and ideals. I could see how much less effort that path would require, how there would be fewer demands on me to improve or strive.
And yet, I couldn't give up. The reservoir of past experiences bubbled up constantly, pushing me to get up and go to church, to teach my Relief Society lessons, to do my visiting teaching, to hold Family Home Evening and say family prayers, to pray to my Heavenly Father as soon as I revived to consciousness each morning. I kept doing all I had been doing, trying to convince myself that the answers were to be found in pressing on, instead of giving up. So even though my heart was often not in it, I continued to make efforts to live the gospel.
My efforts were rewarded by morsels of enlightenment and small shots of strength, but I continued to wrestle with doubts and fears. There were good days, but there were also many that were bad. I was not drowning, but I often felt I was adrift in a stormy sea with nothing but those little arm floaties keeping me from going under.
I can't recall all that I have experienced, heard, read or felt in the past few months that have helped me to swim back to the peaceful shore and begin pulling myself out of the turbulent waters, but there are a couple that stand out.
Elder Holland spoke in conference and it was one of the few talks I actually had the opportunity to concentrate on and hear every word. And it was for me. I know there were millions of others who it was for, but it truly was for me. I cannot begin to count the number of times over the past several years that I have uttered in prayer the phrase, "Lord, I believe; help thou my unbelief." This part of the talk has especially stayed with me:
"In moments of fear or doubt or troubling times, hold the ground you have already won, even if that ground is limited. In the growth we all have to experience in mortality, the spiritual equivalent of this boy's affliction or this parent's desperation is going to come to all of us. When those moments come and issues surface, the resolution of which is not immediately forthcoming, hold fast to what you already know and stand strong until additional knowledge comes."
I also was blessed to be able to travel to see my mother and sisters. Being in their presence, acting like a crazy person and having them put up with it and not be upset by it, talking, laughing and crying with them, being enveloped by their love and friendship and pure awesomeness -- it renewed my spirit, it filled my cup.
At the beginning of the month, I bore my testimony in Sacrament Meeting. I confessed the struggles I'd been having, admitting my weaknesses and letting go of my hurt pride. After Sacrament Meeting, I wanted to run home and hide in bed. I was so embarrassed. But I stayed for the next two hours, in a further attempt to be humble and not be so absorbed in my own self-consciousness.
In the end, however, I think the things that helped the most were 1) to just keep going and 2) to make a choice to see all the good things in life as witnesses that God exists, He loves me and that the gospel is true.
As I travel further into the light, I am beginning to understand the blessings of having had this experience. I cannot yet articulate them. But some of them became clearer to me today (and some answers to the questions I've had were also found) when I read this: http://www.mormoninterpreter.com/letter-to-a-doubter/.
At last, I have found the answer to why doubt is a part of the journey of faith. Doubt and faith may be opposites, but there must be opposition in all things (2 Nephi 2). Without doubt, there is no faith. If I never experienced doubts, how could I exercise my faith? Exercise implies effort. Where there is no doubt -- where there is not even a shadow of it -- no exertion of faith is needed. As we learn in Alma 32, once we have a perfect knowledge, our faith becomes dormant, knowledge having replaced it.
In the past when I experienced doubt, I considered this to be a sign that I lacked faith. I now see that doubt simply provides me with a choice -- to exercise my faith in continuing along the path of the gospel or to allow my doubts to become weeds that choke the seeds of faith I've planted. I pray that I will always choose to continue my journey on the path of faith, a path that provides life-sustaining resting stops of refuge and nourishment on our way to eternal glory and peace.
I love Pinterest, mostly because I can save all the recipes, crafts, party ideas, etc. that I will never use without cluttering up my house or my hard drive. I also love it because sometimes you find funny things on there. Like a link to this boyfriend quiz which I blogged a little bit about before. I love to talk Josh into answering questions like this. I know he doesn't enjoy doing it, but he complies with my wishes because he's awesome and I'm persistent. And sometimes whiny. But I also really like to know the answers.
I was especially interested in finding out how he would answer question #5: What are the qualities you like in me most? I expected a smart aleck answer at first, because that's pretty typical from Josh. Then I was planning to prod him into seriousness and was hoping to hear about how smart, kind, and funny I am. But instead I got this:
"I like that you're opinionated."
"Yeah. You have a backbone. You're not going to let someone walk all over you. And you're interesting. People who don't have opinions or who keep their opinions to themselves are boring."
"Okay. I guess that's okay."
But I'm actually not sure if it is. On the one hand, I'm touched. And relieved in a way. Because on the other hand, I've been accused all my life of being opinionated -- and accused is the right word there. It's not really ever been said to me in a positive light. It's usually accompanied by "closed-minded", which I prefer to think of as having the courage of my convictions. I used to like this stubborn outspokenness about myself, but over the years, it's lost some of its charm. It's cost me a lot. The older I get, the more I try to hide it away.
So I have mixed feelings about being told by my husband that this is one of his favorite things about me. Especially because it was the first thing he said. Over the next few months, I don't dwell on it exactly, but it pops up every now and again in my mind.
On the way home from work today, I listened to a CD I haven't heard in several months. As I exit the freeway, just a few minutes from home, track #7 -- one of my very favorite songs -- comes on. Back in my divorced, single mom days, I would listen to this song and think that I wanted a man who felt this way. Because I always felt the woman being sung about was me. As the perfect voice begins, it clicks. A huge grin appears as I hear:
I'm looking for a hard headed woman,
One who will take me for myself,
And if I find my hard headed woman,
I won't need nobody else, no, no, no.
More than a decade ago I told two young men, including one I was head-over-heels for, about my dream of finding a man who felt this way about me. They didn't get it. They felt the song was a bit of an insult.
But as I listened to the words today, I thought, "This is Josh. This is how Josh feels about me."
I'm looking for a hard headed woman,
One who will make me do my best,
And if I find my hard headed woman
I know the rest of my life will be blessed -- yes, yes, yes.
It got more perfect as it went on, talking about what he's had and doesn't want -- the manipulative, the shallow, the phonies. The kind of people Josh completely despises.The kind of people who drove him out of California and into Arizona and my life.
And as Cat Stevens sings, "I know my life will be as it should," all I can think is "yes, it is. "
Closing in on 10 years of marriage, I think I've finally found our song.
P.S. See the man with the perfect voice singing this song here. And shout out to my brilliant sister, Heather, for introducing me to his music.
Next week, I have to give an icebreaker speech at Toastmasters. The assignment is to give my fellow club members some information about my background, interests and ambitions. Below is the draft of my speech, which may need to be trimmed for time. But I wanted to share it here, as it's the first thing I've written in a long time.
Whate’er Thou Art, Act Well Thy Part.
I received my introduction to the theater at age five, when my kindergarten class performed “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.” I was desperate to play Goldilocks, but my teacher surprisingly gave that role to a little girl in my class with a head crowned by golden ringlets. To my mortification, I was given the consolation role of Mama Bear. But when I got up in front of that class, something happened – I discovered that even in a less than dream role, I still loved to perform. No matter the part, there was joy and exhilaration to be found in playing it well.
Over the next several years, my theatrical experience took place mainly in my living room – putting on puppet plays from behind the couch or acting out the soundtracks blaring from our record player. I had a few opportunities to perform in front of an audience while still in elementary school, but it wasn’t until middle school that my love of being on stage came to full flower. From sixth grade to tenth grade, I had a part in my school’s spring musical. And no matter who I was cast to play, I attacked the part with gusto. From being a nameless chorus member in Once Upon a Mattress to having just a few lines in Fiddler on the Roof to starring as Peter Pan – there was a thrill in every show I did, in every role I played. In addition to my school shows, I had the opportunity to do some community theater and increasingly was given opportunities to sing solos at church and with the school choir.
Performing became my passion. I had always dreamed of being a wife and mother when I grew up, but now I wanted a little something more. I wanted to be a wife and mother who was also on Broadway, perhaps starring in shows I’d written myself in my loft in New York City. Not too far fetched of a dream, right?
When I was 16, my family moved across the country, from Maryland to Arizona. It was there that I became acquainted with a whole new theatrical experience – rejection. I auditioned for a community theater show and did not make the cast. Later that year, I tried out for my school’s production of Fiddler on the Roof – a show I had been in two years before. My audition was the best of my life. People who didn’t even know me and some who didn’t like me were congratulating me after I was done. I was sure I would be on that callback list. But I wasn’t. Upsetting, sure. But it was my first year at a much larger school. It was okay. I would still make the chorus. But when the cast list went up that next week, my name wasn’t on it. And I had to learn how to play a totally different role – audience member.
Senior year, I rebounded, performing in three shows, including the crown jewel of my acting career – playing the part of Emily in Our Town, proving to myself that I was not just a singer who could act, but truly an actress. In the fall, I packed up and headed to Provo to attend BYU with a major in theater. Talk about being a small fish in a big pond. There were 27,000 undergraduate students at the Y and it felt like every single one of them was in the theater program. After two years of school and one student-directed production, I came to a sad conclusion – I wasn’t that good. I decided I was never going to make it as an actress, so my major was just a waste of time. Unsure what else I would possibly want to do, I decided to take a break from school. I moved home and took a full-time job. After about a year, I went back to school as an English major, having decided to return to my first love – writing.
Around the same time, my high school sweetheart returned from his church mission and we resumed dating almost right away. Before a year had passed, we were married and two weeks before our first anniversary, I became a mother. Now here was a role I was born to play. Few things in my life had ever felt so natural and so right as holding my little boy in my arms, kissing his soft cheeks, and singing him to sleep.
The script of my life, in my mind, was now written. My husband would graduate from college, start his career, we’d have four more children, each about two to three years apart. I’d be the stay-at-home mom who volunteered in the classroom and chaperoned field trips. When my kids were older, I’d take community college classes to continue to learn and expand my horizons. Maybe I’d even get involved with community theater again.
However, I soon learned that the script I’d outlined was not the final version and that there would frequently be new lines and pages. Occasionally there would even be major rewrites which would require me to take on new roles I’d never thought I would play. The first of those came to me in the form of my husband leaving me when our baby was just five months old. For the next four years, I would play the role of “single mom”, a part I fumbled my way through with the help of my family, the best supporting cast anyone could ask for. In the first year of my new role, I lost a member of that supporting cast. My dad now watches, waits and cheers from the wings.
Over the years, I’ve taken on many new significant roles. I happily became a wife again in 2003 and added children to my family in 2005. And in 2007. And in 2009. And in 2011. In 2006, I joined CDA as an administrative assistant, moving on to assistant coordinator, then coordinator and now administrator. At church, I’ve had the privilege of being called a teacher, sharing and discussing true principles with children, teenagers and adults through both word and song. I’m also a mom to two boys with special needs, a role that I had strangely expected, but that also took me completely by surprise.
Whate’er thou art, act well they part.
Although I’ve taken on many parts, it has been over 16 years since I last performed on stage. The roles I play now are not accompanied by bright lights. The only costumes in my life are on Halloween. There are no standing ovations when I finish a load of laundry or the dishes or wrestle with my six-year old to brush his teeth. But I have discovered that there is a greater satisfaction to be gained than that which can be found through thunderous applause. When someone learns something new because of something I said or from a program I helped develop. When I relieve a loved one’s anxiety or stress or give a co-worker a helping hand. When my husband puts his arms around me and tells me he’s happy. When I watch my children play outside, their faces shining, their bellies and hearts full. That is when I know I have acted well my part.
Jane turned 18 months old on February 19. She weighed in at 28 pounds, 9 ounces and was 34.5 inches tall at her check-up. That puts her in about the 95th percentile for both height and weight. Jane is a very determined, spunky girl with lots of energy. She loves to mess up Fitz's train tracks and run off with a piece or two now and then. She loves Winnie the Pooh and asks for him by name (either Pooh or Winnie the Pooh). She loves family singing time and does a lot of the actions. She is our best eater, happily partaking of everything from bell peppers to steak. She even eats kung pao chicken! She loves the blanket her Grandma made for her and insists on bringing it with her when she gets out of bed in the morning. She loves all of her family, but is a little nervous about people she doesn't know that well. She enjoys nursery, but always cries a bit when Mom or Dad drop her off. She says a ton of words (ball, no, go, hi, bye, more, all done, up, down, banana, outside, chicken, oopsie, uh oh, whee, oh man, oh cool, oh no, whoa, oh nuts, tree, baby, shh, e-i-e-i-o, cat, Mom, Dad, Katie, where's Katie, shark, teeth, door, etc.). She loves to get her teeth brushed and especially likes it when I let her turn on and off the bathroom light. She loves to play outside and to dance to music. She loves to look at books. When you say chicken, she will put her arms under her armpits and say, "bok, bok." She claps and folds her arms for prayer. If you're lucky, she'll give you a kiss. She has one adorable dimple on her right cheek. She is super cute and fun and loved everywhere she goes. She completes us!
Fitz will be 4 years old on March 29. He is obsessed with sharks and trains, but loves pretty much all animals and cars and planes as well. He loves superheroes and wears Alek's blanket around his neck like a cape (but it has to be that blanket; don't you dare try to give him another one). Fitz is a rough and tumble kid who likes to wrestle and play fight, but is sweet and obedient. He's laid back and happy-go-lucky. He loves school and is doing well there. He gets very excited to get on the bus. Josh talked to his teacher today and she said he is just a joy to have in class. He has several friends he has gotten quite attached to, he does whatever he is asked to do by his teachers, and is a quick learner. His vocabulary grows every day. Over the weekend, he fell down in the yard and told Dad, "It's okay. I'm not hurt." He knows his colors and shapes, can count to 20 and is learning the alphabet. He is an extremely talented sleeper, slumbering while Charlie jumps on their bed or occasionally on him. He loves all his brothers and sisters and enjoys playing with them. He loves to sit with Auntie Kim and Uncle Aaron at church and is so happy Auntie Kim is in primary with him. He had a hard time leaving nursery behind but has now settled into the routine of Sunbeams. Fitz is cute and fun and funny and brings a lot of sunshine into our home.
Charlie is going to be six years old on May 3, but you can see from the above that he is still our baby. This picture was taken right after Charlie dressed himself for the first time, on February 22 of this year. We were all cheering and praising him as he completed his task and he was quite pleased with himself as well. That beautiful face says it all. Charlie still rarely says words and is struggling to communicate in other ways. He was having a difficult time last month and was often crabby and frustrated. He seems to have come out of that and is doing better. Maybe he had the winter blues, just like the rest of us. Charlie loves to jump and spin. He loves Winnie the Pooh, Cars and Finding Nemo. He loves movies with animals, especially sea life. He loves to eat and eat and eat, and is getting a little better about sitting at the table to do so. Certain noises bother him, but he can usually stand them by plugging his ears. Charlie loves soft, squishy mattresses, blankets and pillows and especially loves Grandma and Grandpa's bed. He loves school. He loves to be outside. He is a happy boy, and we all adore him.