Tuesday, June 24, 2008


Every day I read a blog written by Leroy Sievers on NPR website. Mr. Sievers has cancer and writes about what he is going through. Today he had the question, "How do you want to be remembered?"

My first reaction was that I don't have control over how people will remember me when I've "gone the way of all the earth". I don't seem to have too many ideas about how people will remember me. My world is pretty small so I don't imagine too many people will be thinking about me besides my family and a few friends. I have quite a few acquaintances but not a lot of close friends. I've always kind of felt like I was on the outside looking in, watching people and wondering about why they were doing certain things. I guess I'm more of a sociologist than a friend. Then again, every once in a while someone will say something that gives me a bit of an eyebrow raise when I hear that they consider me a friend. I get along with all kinds of people, but I'd rather hear their stories than tell my own most of the time. I admit I don't work at friendships. My illness, my family schedule, and I guess my innate characteristics, play into my aloneness.

I guess the question is about what I want rather than what I think others might feel. So, how do I want to be remembered? I'd like to be remembered as someone who was thoughtful, kind, understanding, and funny. How would you like to be remembered?

I'm not sure anyone can truly understand me by going through journals, files, or this blog. What kind of picture do we have of a person's life when they die? Does that picture change over time? Why do we have different pictures for different people when our purpose is the same? Why can't some people get a picture out of their mind? How accurate are our memories of people, I mean, would our memory be anything close to how that person saw him or herself?

"Who am I? They tell me I bore
the days of misfortune equably,
smilingly, proudly, like one
to win.

Am I then really that which
other men tell of?
Or am I only what I myself
know of myself?
Restless and longing and sick,
like a bird in a cage."
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

carry on.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

into my chronic fatigue

It hit today. I'm talking about the feeling that creeps over me and lingers with tremendous, painful fatigue. Can't say it's much fun. My legs ache, my head aches, my whole body aches, but I think the most painful is the aching in my heart. When this feeling is really strong it is so very, very hard to hold on to hopeful thoughts. It takes everything I have inside of me to push myself forward when I want to shut down, give up, and turn away from the world. Some days I'm forced to shut down. My body simply won't cooperate with my efforts to keep going. Other times I do keep pushing, but it's a "survival mode" where everything is pulled inside of me and I silently (because noise hurts) put one foot in front of the other and step-by-step feel the moments tick by without my heart living in them.

I can't think too far ahead. I'm not talking days, I'm talking about thinking ahead in terms of hours and even minutes. Man, it hurts. There is a pain that is beyond the physical sensation of discomfort. It is a deep pain that pierces my soul and seems to settle in my chest, inside of my heart, and it weighs heavily upon me forcing me to feel the pain as my chest lifts with every breath. Deep breaths seem to channel the pain more intensely up into my head and they tighten the vice that surrounds my thoughts. Where does it come from? Why is it here inside of me?

The daily challenge of Chronic Fatigue is difficult in itself so when days like this come around it is even more wrenching to my spirit.

I don't know how to meet the expectations of others when it is so hard to push myself through the days. When a day like today comes around my soul cries and I feel the sorrow of not being able to be what I feel like I need to be, to do what I feel I'm expected to do. I have those feelings pretty much every day living with this illness, but when my body and mind are locked into the pain it is a struggle to convince myself that I'm okay. I mean, it's hard to feel worthwhile and significant when I'm not doing what I wish I could be doing for other people.

I try to stay quiet about my pain. I don't think most people can relate. I don't think anyone can really understand unless they are living with a comparable illness. It's interesting how people just expect "the usual" out of other people. It is days like this when I want everyone to stop expecting me to not be sick. It takes too much of me to just get through the moments to have to push through obligations. Nevertheless, I push. Some may argue that it is good to push, but they don't understand my illness. It may be good to try to push through the depression, but physically it is pain upon pain to push.

I need the world to be silent, but the world doesn't stop for my pain. Noise is amplified a hundred times over in my head. I've learned to survive. I've learned to pull myself into a place that I'm not even aware of until I'm through the most painful moments. I'll get through today. When my spirit is lifted away from this brutality I will feel the release and give thanks. It's a curious thing how endurable the everyday kind of pain is when I emerge from these episodes of extraordinary pain. I remember being delivered from this kind of pain before, and I will wait for my reprieve.

carry on.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Pioneer women

Janie Arnold asked me to write something like a diary entry for a pioneer woman with entries for Nauvoo, traveling across the plains, and living in Salt Lake valley. At first I had a hard time trying to feel any kind of inspiration, but I went to the library and picked up 8 books (all but one I had read before), and started digging through them. I wrote a page and decided it would not be very interesting to sit and listen to me read pages of writing, and I found the task to be forced and somewhat unreal. I decided it would be far more entertaining to have actual entries from the actual time periods and have different people reading them.

As I have been going through the books I am reminded of how strong the early pioneers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were. I am reminded of their faith and courage and sacrifice. I am reminded that we share the same human emotions and desires. I am reminded of how convenient my life is in many ways; but also, I remind myself that I can’t really put myself in their place because the world of the mid 1800's is foreign to me. Just as they must see the world of 2008 being far removed from what they could have imagined.

These pioneer women were waiting for the return of the Savior just as we are. I wonder if they believed it was more imminent than we do. Perhaps we have a different sense of time because of all the access we have to history, but more than that, I think we have a sense of immediate gratification that is contrary to their mindset of rewards in heaven versus hardship in this earthly life. They were preparing for eternity while we tend to prepare for tomorrow on earth.

Their stories teach me about courage and faith; about perseverance and commitment. I wish I understood more of the culture of the time period. There isn’t any way to look at the past through a clean window. Our view is clouded with our own time period and what we know of the here and now as well as the past. What would I see if I could look into their world as they are living their lives? What would I hear? If I could listen to their thoughts, what would they be thinking? If our thoughts are a product of our environment, our language, culture, education, religion, beliefs, the literature we read, the things we watch on television, etc., then, what would their thoughts be like?

My curiosity actually hurts me at times. It feels like a desperation that I know can’t be satisfied by any means but I can't stop the questions from plaguing my mind.

Some of the entries from these pioneer women are written later in their lives about experiences from the past, and we know that we see our past according to where we are in the present, so, what is the truth of their stories? Are we reading their real story, or the story they want to others to believe? How can I know these women?

We can only share snippets of our lives with others. There is our life inside of us that no one else knows but God. When we try to write about our lives there must be something missing from every story. We are individually everything that we’ve seen, heard, felt, experienced, read, thought, and there isn’t any way to describe a life on paper. There aren’t words to describe every moment that our hearts beat. Even our moods shift and one day we may write about a story that would be told differently on another day.

What I do know is that they believed in something that moved their lives in a specific direction. They had a purpose that is hard to fathom because I haven’t been called to gather to Zion. I haven’t been asked to do the things they did. Many of them moved from one place to another and then moved again and again, and they carried on, some admitting that they kept going because they had “cast their lot” with the Church and its people and there was no turning back. Of course we know that there were those who did turn back. What made the difference? There were those who had nothing to turn back to, and those who had comfort and wealth with family that they had left for the gospel of Christ. At least, they believed their leaving was for the gospel and that belief motivated their decisions again and again.

Where would I have been in the world of the Church in those days? I can’t place myself there. Perhaps my stubbornness and independence would have carried me through and I could have endured the hardship. We can’t ever completely imagine with total clarity a life that isn’t our own, can we?

There is a new movie out about Emma Smith, wife of the prophet, Joseph Smith. I watched the trailer for the movie on you-tube and then there was a music video that I listened to. The chorus to the song says, “How much can one heart take?” It says something about, “when you lost your husband, when you buried your children…” and it says that the angels stood in reverence and heard your prayers. It made me think about how much a heart can feel and keep beating. I think a lot about those kinds of things. I mark the lines in the scriptures that have the word, “heart”, and I wonder about how much it has to do with everything in our lives. Our hearts are what lead us astray, keep us steadfast, stir us up to anger, bring us peace and joy, and feel the witness of the Holy Ghost. I don’t know how much one heart can take. I know that every person is unique and God knows our hearts and whatever we keep in our heart will be revealed on judgment day. I know that one heart may seem stronger than another, but things aren’t always as they seem.

I know that each heart can take more than the owner ever thought possible. I hear that again and again.

I know the point of the song was to not judge Emma Smith for not going with the Saints to Salt Lake and to give her credit for everything she endured. Yes, there are those who believe she did not endure to the end or she would have followed Brigham Young, the leader of the Church after Joseph Smith was martyred. We can only pretend to know what was in her heart. To say that the journey westward was more than her heart could take at the time, in her circumstance, is to say that she gave up. I don’t know that she did. I don’t really know anything that was in her mind and heart and in her prayers. Books have been written, but we don’t know the words written in her heart. I admit that I wonder about what happened. I wonder how much of her faith was in Joseph and how much of her incentive to keep going was wrapped up in his life. Did his death shatter not only her heart, but her mind? Maybe we should also ask, “How much can one mind take?” Our thoughts are powerful.

What was she thinking when her world (Joseph) was “taken from her”? (Did she think he was “taken” from her? If so, did her perception affect her faith?) Did his death bring about the culmination of everything that she had been through? Did all of the years of sacrifice and the enormity of her fatigue, pain, grief, sacrifice, love, joy, heartache, faith, courage, doubt, fear, determination, and everything else, weigh so heavily upon her that she had to rest? Perhaps, she simply had to rest.

You know what it feels like to have to lay your head down? And, do you know what it feels like to keep going because you can’t stop, because if you stop you might never get going again? Either way, sometimes we have to lay our heads down because there is no other way we know how to survive.

I believe the angels hear our prayers. I believe they help us whenever possible. I believe there is something strong beyond this life. I believe that no one knows my heart and mind the way God knows me.

When I think of the pioneers I wonder: What would I do for my belief in the Book of Mormon? What would I do for my belief in Jesus Christ? What would I do for the leaders of the Church when they call for sacrifice?

My heart knows.


June, 1978. I was driving to work in a small silver pickup with red interior. I was listening to the radio as I traveled down the highway to Radium Hot Springs where I worked as a lifeguard the summer after I graduated from high school and I heard the news. The prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Spencer W. Kimball, had announced that black men who were members of the Church could be given the priesthood. My heart soared!

It seems like I had always questioned "the ban" that refused black men from being ordained to the priesthood, but when I was about 14 years-old I challenged my dad with my objection (he was a bishop at the time). He didn't have a satisfying answer to all of my questions. He gave me books to read. They must have been written in the 1950's because they used the word 'negro'. I wasn't impressed with the books. My questions remained in my mind, heart and soul. Fortunate or not, I never found myself in a situation where I had to defend the Church's policy; therefore, I'm not quite sure what I would have said. It's highly unlikely I would have defended it. I wasn't one to waste time saying things that I thought people wanted to hear. I sometimes got myself in trouble with my blatant honesty, so I probably would have admitted that I didn't understand why it was the way it was.

I wonder if I would have been able to keep moving forward in the Church had the revelation not come when it came. How much longer could I have lived with the separation of my heart from that particular Church doctrine? How much longer could I have sustained a prophet of the Church who I felt was discriminating against men with dark skin? I don't know. I still have questions about some things in the Church, but my testimony of core beliefs is stronger than my questions. Would I have continued living with what I knew to be true and simply set aside that which I could not reconcile? I don't know.

I remember that day in June, 1978, driving down the road. I remember arriving at work and feeling a spirit of celebration throughout the day. It's a jubilant feeling to have one's heart repaired. Of course I wondered why things had to be the way they had been, but I felt happy that day.

I've read a lot about Church history and there is a trilogy of historical novels about black Mormon pioneers that I enjoyed reading. The trilogy is called, Standing on the Promises, and it is written by Margaret Blair Young and Darius Aidan Gray. There is documentation of a black man being ordained to the priesthood by the prophet Joseph Smith. (I've also read about women being set apart by J. Smith to give blessings.) I can't help but wonder what some things in the Church would have been like had Joseph Smith lived longer.

I can't help how leaders of the Church personally felt about black people in the 1800's and into the 1900's. Anti-mormons dig up quotes from different Church leaders in the past and throw them around to try and prove racism and hate, but I don't know the context of the quotes or whether or not they were actually said. My life is now, and my Church membership is now, and I could (and would) apologize for how things were if I found myself in a situation where I thought it was necessary. My point is that I can't change the past.

In the Book of Mormon there is a story of a curse being given to a group of people called the Lamanites. Their skin is made darker because of their wickedness - the Lord didn't want the righteous people to become wicked so he gave the Lamanites a curse to distinguish them from the righteous. Later in the Book of Mormon there is a time when the Lamanites become righteous. When I was young I remember reading several passages in the Book of Mormon and thinking that the curse was about wickedness and not about the color of a person's skin. I wondered why other people interpreted the Book so differently from me and called it racist. For many years I have boldly taught my sunday school kids that any "curse" that is given to someone in the scriptures is about wickedness and righteousness, and it is NOT about the color of a person's skin. The good news is that I haven't had a student challenge the point (and I always encourage my students to question things). They seem to "get it".

This is what I do know: The Lord knows our hearts. Today my heart rejoices for the gift of the priesthood to ALL worthy males in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.