Sunday, May 14, 2017

Gardens Take Time

I love flower gardens. I have been to several botanical gardens and am always impressed by not only the beauty, but by the number of years some plants have been growing.  My grandmother grew flowers,mostly perennials and flowering bushes. Every Memorial Day she would fill bottles and cans with peonies, lilacs and snowball bush flowers (I'm sure there is a real name for that bush, but I don't know it.) and take them to cemeteries.  They called it Decoration Day.  My mother didn't really go in for decorating graves and made a bit of a show about leaving Utah and her youth behind her, but I realize now that the main flowers that greeted me each Idaho spring were peonies, lilacs and snowball bushes.  I have planted all three as well, along with the bleeding hearts I loved when I was young.  In my home of two years, I have two small lilac bushes, three peonies, and a bleeding heart plant but no snowball bushes as yet. She and my dad also grew petunias and snapdragons and a few roses. Me too. I've even added some they didn't grow--lavender, columbine, and plants I don't know the names of. But I digress.  This blog is not about flower gardens--it is about THE flower garden, The Garden of Eden. And me.

Let me explain.  I believe that Heavenly Father directed his son, Jesus, to create the Earth.  I love the creation story and believe it is true, as far as we understand it. I think it took longer than 6 of our days to complete, and I believe that He worked through natural laws. The Garden of Eden would have taken a very long time.  In every depiction I have seen, and I know these are only artists' depictions, this garden was lush with every plant, flower and tree that existed then and exists now.  Maybe more. The point I am trying to make is that it took time for this beautifully perfect garden to be finished.

I am 62 years old.  When I was younger (so much younger than today!) I thought my life would be figured out by this time.  I thought I would be finished, not perfect, but well on my way to being something I could present back to my Heavenly Father with satisfaction.  I knew I would still be polishing up the rough surfaces, but I'm serious--I thought I would be done with all the hard stuff.  I was wrong.

Back to my beautiful garden analogy.  It turns out that I wasn't all that ambitious about the garden of my life. I was content with some pesky weeds and as long as I added a few new perennials every year, I was good. My life's garden was a lot like my new house garden--not lush by any means, but pretty in spots.  Heavenly Father had more in mind for my stay here on earth.

Gardens take work.  I love working in my yard. I like to feel the soil under my fingernails.  I like to dig and stretch and water and watch as my efforts make one little patch of yard beautiful.  My gardening skills are novice, my budget is tight, but all in all, I take pride in my efforts.

My life garden is okay.  In fact, parts of it are beautiful. But it's hard work and I am lazy at times. Good enough has been my overall philosophy. I mean, really.  I'm a pretty good writer sometimes. I'm good at crafts.  I can cook if I want to.  I'm a good teacher. Again, it's hard work and I get tired. The most important part of my life is the honor I have been given to be a mother and grandmother.

Lately, life has been hard.  I have a beloved son who struggles with substance abuse and mental health issues. It's hard to always do what's best for him and what's best for me.  Weeds like inconsistency, enabling, and excusing crop up, even when I know better.  Sometimes I can't tell flowers from weeds, and sometimes I just want someone else to be the gardener for a while. Turns out that, at 62, I'm not done. There's more to do, more to learn if I am to become the mother I want to be, the daughter of God I want to be.

My son's life is also a garden.  He has rare and exotic plants and flowers and amazes me with his gardening skills.  He also breaks my heart when he lets the garden grow wild, without the care and pruning it deserves. Sometimes I have neglected my own garden, trying to fix his. Neither garden flourishes.

I have been humbled enough by what I considered my failures at parenting, that I have finally asked for help and started listening to people who love me give me counsel and advice.  I have knelt in prayer and felt loved and chastised at the same time. I have, figuratively speaking, felt my life garden be redesigned. Borders have been enlarged, soil is being improved with compost and nutrients. Weeds are being pulled out, some of which have long, stubborn roots. New varieties of plants are being brought in, and I have to admit that I'm not completely grateful for the pain of this new growth. Many tears have watered these new plants and I will not even pretend that the work is done.

Eventually, I will be finished and the life I present back to my Heavenly Father, beautified by His hand and perfected by my Savior's Atonement will be much more than I was willing to settle for. Unburdened by my attempts of control, my son will have the chance to allow his life to be changed and healed.

I hope in a few years when I look back, I will be happy that the work made things better and maybe I'll even be able to help other gardeners.  Until then, I trust in the Lord and am willing to accept His direction.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

For Kristen

When I turned 18, I automatically became a member of the largest women's organization in the world, the Relief Society of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Among the excellent aspects of this organization is being a part of the visiting teaching program.  In every congregation, women are assigned two visiting teachers. These two companions go to the homes of the women on their 'routes' once a month with a message of hope/encouragement/inspiration as a way to form friendships that will then enable them to ascertain the needs of these women and make sure these needs are met.

For example, Mary is visited by Jane and Emily.  They could be the same age or not, have similar family situations or not, be devout members of the church or not.  Jane and Emily probably have 2-4 women they visit.  Say Mary has a baby.  Jane and Emily will either take a couple of meals into the family or ask other people to do so.  That's easy enough.  But say Mary is battling severe depression, is struggling to take care of herself and her children, and is possibly even wondering if life is worth living.  If Jane and Emily have truly become friends with Mary and love her as a sister, they have an opportunity to help this woman out of a deep hole. They listen to her, watch her children, take her to doctor's appointments, and if the situation warrants, talk to the Relief Society president about getting more help and support for her.  But Jane and Emily will never know about any of this unless Mary trusts them.  They can't just show up once a month, give a five minute lesson and blithely say, "Let us know if you need anything," as they hurry out the door.

When I was 23, I was the Relief Society president of a single adult ward, and thereby oversaw the visiting teaching in my ward.  Every woman was assigned visiting teachers unless they absolutely refused to let them visit.  Few did, even if they never attended church.  Who doesn't need two more friends watching out for you?  All women were asked to be visiting teachers; most accepted; some were consistent in their monthly visits; some were consistent and compassionate.  Great acts of service were accomplished by these consistently caring visiting teachers.  Great acts of service were even accomplished by the ones who only made visits occasionally because the important aspect was making friends with the women you taught--establishing relationships of trust that enabled them to ask you for help.  Even when these acts of service weren't necessary, something pretty wonderful usually happened--lasting friendships.

I'm 62 years old.  I have been a visiting teacher for 44 years. I have been visited by other women for 44 years.  I have served and been served. I have been consistent in my visits at times and have been horribly inconsistent during other times.  I have had incredible visiting teachers who became life long friends and others who did not visit me.  We're all human and this program is as simple as it sounds, but not easy. Calling women you may not know and asking to come to their homes can be scary.  Getting to know them can be difficult.  Developing friendships takes time and effort.  People move; there are times in our lives when adding one more duty seems daunting if not impossible.

Starting in my mid 40's, I took more than I gave.  I was a single parent, worked full time, had health issues, money problems and challenging parenting issues.  My visiting teachers were wonderful, but I wasn't such a great visiting teacher.  The Relief Society presidents switched my companions and my routes, and there were times I rose to the occasion, but I slowly lost confidence in my ability to adequately handle my own life, let along help someone else.  I still reached out to others and served in other areas, but I didn't feel like I was the kind of visiting teacher I had been in the past.

I left a ward I had been in for for over 30 years and moved into a new ward almost two years ago.  I was asked to be a visiting teacher and given a companion and a route.  It was slow going.  They were all strangers and I was still working full time and dealing with all the same issues of the past 15 years. One Sunday, the Relief Society president let me know that a sister on my route had reached out and asked to be visited. At first I felt guilty that I had to be reminded, but at least I knew I was welcome.  I visited Kristen alone a few times, with my first companion a few times, and then my next companion. Not every month, but often enough.  I started making friends with this young mother of three who looked like she belonged in a Jane Austen movie.  I retired almost a year ago and Kristen and I continued to form a friendship.  She had a fourth baby and she and her husband moved in with his sister and her family.  Four adults and eleven children lived together as Kristen and Adam helped the larger family financially while his sister's husband recovered from an illness.

It wasn't always easy for Kristen to merge her four young children with seven older cousins, less room and different family habits and lifestyles.  One day, I asked if she wanted to bring her kids over to my house once a week or so, let them play in my (awesome) toy room while she and I sat in the living room with her baby and talked.  It seemed like an easy offer to make, but it made a world of difference for a couple of months.  I loved the feeling of helping and she felt loved and cared for.  And her kids liked the toy room. She cooked a couple of times--she missed having her own kitchen and mine is largely unused.  We laughed together and shared hopes and frustrations.

Kristen is moving to Florida tomorrow morning. New city, new house, new job, new friends.  She'll have new visiting teachers, too.  I hope they love her as much as I do.  Thanks, Kristen, for reminding me that I can help another woman in small and simple ways.  There's a reason that we call each other sisters in our church.


Monday, January 2, 2017

I Can't Believe It's Been This Long



     I started writing in journals when I was a teenager. Sometimes I wish I had saved them, but I threw them away.  Perhaps it is just as well.  They were surely filled with the angst of teenage drama.  I started another journal before I graduated from college and I began almost every entry with the title of this essay.  Oh, there were times I wrote weekly or maybe monthly, but more often I would open up the book and realize it had been many months or even close to a year.  I stopped keeping regular journals some time ago, although there are several lying around with an entry or two.  This blog is not a journal.  It began as a collection of essays so that I would be challenged to write, edit, and rewrite on the off chance that someone would actually read one and so it still is.  But it's been almost two years. 

     Much has changed in my life and some of those changes will undoubtedly be reflected in upcoming blogs.  Since one of my 2017 resolutions is to write more, I'm sure there will be a respectable number of essays before I stop again.

     This essay, however, is about the opposite of change.  

     A much repeated adage about choosing one's mate is to never marry someone you think will change.  It's not that people can't change; they can and do in sometimes remarkable ways.  It's just that you shouldn't think you can make them change.  The older I get, and I am getting there quickly, the less I believe I have changed much in my life. Sure, I have matured and improved in some areas.  I have set goals and attained them; I have even successfully prayed to have certain weaknesses become strengths and watched in wonder as they have. I have also struggled with some of the same problems most of my life.  Altogether, the fundamentals of my personality are much the same as they were in grade school.

     I loved approval as a child and I still do.  I received plenty from my parents and older brothers, so I was disappointed when I went out into the world and received much less.  The problem was that as much as I liked approval, I liked sharing my opinions more.  Opinions that were not necessarily in the mainstream.  And sharing is the key word.  A lot of people have differing political views from friends, but they don't talk about those views when outnumbered.  I seem to only share them when I am outnumbered.  I was a Democrat in 1972 when I started attending BYU, and I just voted straight Democrat in the 2016 election.  There are plenty of Mormon Democrats, some even get elected, but the ones who want to be popular in Nampa, Idaho keep it to themselves.

     I loved having pets as a child.  I loved having pets as an adult.  Especially cats.  But when I bought my home almost 2 years ago, I knew I wouldn't have a pet cat.  First of all, two of my adult sons have developed allergies to cats and have indicated they would feel less loved if I brought a cat into the home they visit once or twice a year.  Seriously.  The other reason if I'm honest, though, is that I like to pick up and go for a week or two at a time now that I'm retired and the last cats I neglected paid me back by ruining carpet. Cat owners know what I mean.  I have new carpet and flooring in my house. It's horrible to admit that I don't want it ruined, but I don't.  I also have grandchildren who are even cuter than cats. All of that said, I jumped at the chance, or maybe hopped, when a student at my last teaching job needed someone to adopt his rabbits.  So, I have had three rabbits for a year now.They take neglect better than cats, and they are super cute to watch hop around the yard when the weather is nice.  When the weather is very cold and snowy like it is now, they require me to change out their water bottles when frozen and convince my daughter to do so when I want to drive to Utah to see the grandchildren there.

     As a child, I liked collecting things.  Dolls, rocks, marbles, books and to a lesser extent, shoes and purses.  I downsized quite a bit when I sold the house I'd lived in 24 years, but anyone who knows me has seen what most people would consider too many dolls, rocks, marbles, books and yes, shoes and purses in my house.  And dishes.  And plants.  And nativity sets.  That's all I'm willing to admit to right now.

     So what's the point of this essay, because, I do try to have a point.  It's really all about why I am writing--why it's a resolution.  I started writing 50 years ago.  I wrote poetry and stories as a 12 year old. I took creative writing classes in high school and college.  I wrote a song or two, a roadshow or three, and have wanted to write and be published my whole life.  It was third on my list.

     First, I wanted to be married and have children.  I'm not married now, but I have the exact kind of children I wanted and 11 grandchildren as an incredible bonus.  Second, I wanted to work with other people's children. I graduated in Child Development, worked professionally with developmentally delayed children before my oldest child was born.  When he was three,  I created and taught two days a week in my own preschool for 15 years.  When I needed to support myself and my children, I received a teaching certificate and taught middle school for 15 years.  I didn't write as much as I wanted to during the years I mothered and taught and I don't regret the choices I made. I had a few things published; I've won a contest or two, but not on the level I dreamed of.

     Now I'm retired.  I don't have much confidence that I can write as well as I used to, but I need to try.  I bought a marvelous blue leather office chair at an estate sale a few days ago and have been sitting comfortably while I have been writing this.  The hard wooden dining room chair I was using made any attempt at writing painful after 10 minutes. I still have ideas; my plots for children's books are never hard to revive.  I would like to write personal histories for family members and even a few friends who have excellent stories, but no feeling for how to put them on paper. And when poems form in my mind, I'd like to do the work necessary to make them real.

     I don't have many regrets about my life.  It has been quite wonderful. Since I have a gift of time, though, it seems silly not to chase that third dream.