Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Rainy

I really do love rainstorms so much. And so do these little capering goblins of mine. We didn't have any storms in August (that I can remember), so I was quite happy that September brought some! 

Also, I really can't resist baby people in rain boots.
Some sort of jumping contest was going on here
And some sort of running contest here.
Thoughtful
Daisy's bright little eyes! She was so proud of herself for twirling the umbrella sideways.
Such lovely girls I have!
It was a very dramatic sort of day. Later that day we were playing on a playground with this striking scene in the background.
And still later, as the sun was going down, we saw this double rainbow from the back porch!

Labor Day Campfire

I always have very mixed feelings on Labor Day. It doesn't really make sense. I love fall, and it's not like winter is such a very large and terrible thing. It has Christmas! And hot chocolate. And snuggling. And it ends, it always ends, and there is spring again. But anyway, Labor Day means I have to face the fact that summer is over, and it feels like a time of thoughtfulness and drawing inward a bit for me, and reflecting on change and what it means.

And there's always our traditional Labor Day campfire (eeek, edible little Malachi in that link!!)! It seems like just barely that baby Junie was toddling around, and falling ofttimes into the fire, and oft into the water. Now that's Goldie's job.

Boys, sticks, fire. What could go wrong?

Girls on stump.
Girls in the cavities of a rock.
Goldie in the bear-chair

When we were in Montreal, our friend Thierry said he liked mayonnaise on his hot dogs. We tried it and it's great! And spinach makes every sandwich better. Also, we love the Costco hotdogs. Add chips and my Nana's baked beans and you have an ideal dinner. Yum!

Sam cooked perfect marshmallows/s'mores, as usual. There was something wondrous about the coals of this fire. They produced quick and even browning on every single marshmallow! We were marveling about it, and then someone stirred the coals and the magic was lost. Sad.
The most perfect marshmallows are not without their dark side, however. Even when they are simply regular-sized…they have the capacity for much evil.
Oh, sweet Marigold. The little lamb wants to come straight to me, of course. Drawn to me like a moth to a flame.
She is somewhat bewildered and not a little disturbed by the comprehensiveness of this mess. So am I, frankly. All part of the campfire experience!
Likewise, the sight of Sam warming a baby-bundle by the fire. I would like you to note Theo's bright little beady eyes peeking out from that blanket. Also Sam's solid stance and steely gaze. What a fine specimen of a man he is!
Theo quite agrees. He gazes at Sam adoringly in the firelight.
And so did the rest of us.
And that was Labor Day.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Imperfect Sacrifice

I've been having long, rambling conversations with a friend lately about…oh, everything really, but we've been circling around familiar topics: how can we learn to be hopeful and grateful through times of difficulty? How can any of us ever get past all the mistakes we make and the heartaches we cause? Both of us have such great desires to serve God and to do the right thing…but in so many situations, we just don't know…exactly what the right thing IS!

To give an almost laughably small example: I feel very blessed to live close to a temple, so I try to go often to show my gratitude to Heavenly Father. Even though my total time commitment isn't nearly as big as some people's, there are still lots of things that have to go right for me to feel like I'm having the ideal experience: the baby and children need to be fed so I know they won't need me while I'm gone, and I have to go at a time when I don't have to rush home afterwards, and I need to be alert and rested so I won't fall asleep, and I need to get there early enough that I can sit quietly and meditate for awhile, and I need to go with questions or seeking revelation so that I can find answers there.

The trouble is that all these factors almost never converge. There usually IS something to rush home for. I usually DO feel flustered and hurried when I arrive. I usually DO get sleepy the moment I sit down and the lights dim. And—anticipating these problems and knowing how much each will diminish my temple experience”—I often say to myself, "It shows such disrespect to go racing in five minutes before the session starts. I should go tomorrow when I've planned ahead better." Or, "I can't go when I'm so tired; I always feel so ungrateful when I nod off. I'm not offering much of a sacrifice to God if I'm not even able to stay alert."

Then one day I was telling this to Sam, and he said something like, "Maybe falling asleep and feeling bad about it, and going anyway, IS your sacrifice."

I thought about it all that week, and then all that month. I'm still thinking about it. I thought of lots of ways it could be mis-applied ("Feeling guilty because I skipped church for the football game IS my sacrifice!") and lots of ways it might lead me to celebrate my own laziness ("Having people judge me for my kids' uncombed hair IS my sacrifice!")…but…I still couldn't shake the feeling that there is something true about it. 
In my head I started calling this idea "The Imperfect Sacrifice." And suddenly I started seeing examples of it everywhere. Where I had been saying disgustedly to myself, "How lame of me to get mad at all the kids right before church! I hate going into sacrament meeting feeling flustered and guilty!" or "I'm not supposed to just read the scriptures, I'm supposed to study them! But I got up too late and now it'll be five minutes with kids interrupting every three seconds, or nothing."
—now I was thinking, "Well, today going into sacrament meeting while stressed out IS my sacrifice." "Carrying the baby in and out as he fusses, and getting nothing out of the Sunday School lesson, IS my sacrifice." "Reading the scriptures while distracted IS my sacrifice. An imperfect one! But one I can give all the same."

When I was in high school I knew someone that used to say, sighing dramatically, "I know I just need to stop being such a perfectionist…I do everything TOO WELL and it's draining me dry!" And that is NOT where I'm going with this. I'm not looking for someone to say, "Oh, you do so much…give yourself some credit! You're super just the way you are!" I don't want to be "easier on myself;" I have too much improvement needed! Anyway, in many areas, I'm selfish enough not to even want to do a particularly good job on something, so it's no sacrifice when I don't. In other areas, I haven't even learned how to do a good job, so an imperfect effort is basically all I've got. 
But, because I love the gospel and I love the Lord, there are areas where I want so badly to give a willing sacrifice; one worthy of my love for Jesus Christ. In my family. In my calling. Times I just would like to know, "I gave it my best. I did everything required and the situation, while hard, was beautiful in its difficulty. I sacrificed and that sacrifice was my gift to God." 

Unfortunately for that starry-eyed desire, so often my life is NOT beautiful in its difficulty. Sure it's difficult—but for stupid, messy, lame reasons that would not make a good Mormon Message. All I want is to give these lovely unblemished sacrifices to the Lord, but then even my hard things end up being self-imposed and avoidable and hard to find any sort of noble storyline in. Suffering bravely through cancer seems like a great sacrifice to offer to God. Suffering because you're grumpy about having only one of your two ovens working…not so much.

But…but…knowing I have so much to improve on, knowing I should keep trying to find the ideal, I STILL am coming to think there is value in seeing these poor, bedraggled little sufferings of mine (Rushing out of the temple without any time to sit and ponder! Feeling heartsick because of an argument I started myself! Sending my kids off grudgingly to the service project when I could have used them to weed my own yard!) as sacrifices too. Imperfect ones. Ones that I really hope become more noble with time. But they're what I have, so I give them, and I shouldn't hold them back just because they could be better.
As I was talking about this with my friend, I had to admit that I couldn't really find the idea of "the imperfect sacrifice" in the scriptures. After all, the Israelites were supposed to offer up perfect, "unblemished" lambs to God, prefiguring the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ. But then I found this from Elder Holland:
All first born sons, in all of Israel, were [theoretically supposed to be] dedicated to the service of the Lord, including Levitical service in the temple itself. [But] it was not practical for every first born son to be presented there, let alone to render service there. Nevertheless, the eldest son in a family was still claimed as the lord’s own in a special way and had to be formally exempted from his requirement by the pain of an offering, or a redemption….The standard offering on behalf of such a child was a yearling lamb and a pigeon, or a turtle dove. But in cases of severe poverty, the Law of Moses allowed the substitution of a second dove, in place of the more expensive lamb. Mary and Joseph presented [Jesus] to his true father [in the temple] with an offering of two pigeons; two turtle doves.
He was talking about how poor Mary and Joseph were, and how they couldn't even afford the "standard offering" on behalf of baby Jesus. But it strikes me as significant. There was the lamb, the "true" offering; a sacrifice which when given was full of symbolism and beauty. But in the absence of that offering, a lesser offering would do. Or to put it in even simpler terms: something was better than nothing. A sacrifice, however small and embarrassing and incomplete, was still worth giving. And God would count it to them as righteousness.

And it makes me think that maybe the silly, self-caused things that make our stories less-than-elevated…really are PART OF the sacrifice we offer up toward God when we follow him. That me going to the temple, and frantically sucking on the discreet mints in the pocket of my temple dress and then falling asleep anyway, is somehow better than nothing. And me wanting to wait and only go when I can not be distracted and be perfectly alert and feel the Angels in my presence—well, it's sort of selfish, in a funny way. I don't know if that makes sense. I'm not advocating for shedding all ideals!! It IS better to go to the temple when you're not in a rush, and you get there early, and sit nicely in the chapel pondering. That is better. It's better to pray a heartfelt, sincere prayer than a 30-second sleepy one. But when I think, "I can't pray a quick, half-asleep prayer! How disrespectful! That makes it seem like I don't value God!"—and so I'm tempted not to pray at all—maybe sacrificing that "ideal experience" is part of what I have to be willing to do, if I really want to give everything to God.
Here's something else I read along those same lines, by Bruce C. Hafen:
The people in 3 Nephi 17 had survived destruction, doubt, and darkness just to get to the temple with Jesus. After listening to Him for hours in wonder, they grew too weary to comprehend Him. As He prepared to leave, they tearfully looked at Him with such total desire that He stayed and blessed their afflicted ones and their children. They didn’t even understand Him, but they wanted to be with Him more than they wanted any other thing. So He stayed. Their almost was enough.
I wonder if it's the same principle of "We would be willing to do some great thing for God, but many are not quite so anxious to do some of [the] basics"—or the scripture that says, "He hath no form nor comeliness…no beauty that man should desire him." Maybe that's true in some ways about our own "stories" of faith and sacrifice too. Don't misunderstand me: I love reading stories of people who dreamed of the missionaries and found them, people who read the Book of Mormon in one night and got baptized the next day. I feel such admiration for stories of hardened sinners, people who have fought against God, and then had a change of heart and against all odds and opposition changed their lives and become converted. I'm so inspired when I hear about the great things people do for the Lord. They seem like such lovely sacrifices, and ones I would be proud to have made. But what about the person that was born in the church but just sort of stumbled along being semi-active for awhile, and then doing better for awhile, and then sort of getting lazy and losing interest, and then finally deciding to commit, and slowly transforming herself into a faithful, but unremarkable, church member that no one ever hears of? That story has no particular "beauty that we should desire it"—no one dreams of being that person—but to God? I'm guessing it's as beautiful as all the others. It's a hard thing to see with your OWN experiences (and maybe it's better that way) but I think I can truly discern that kind of beauty in the "ordinary" experiences of others.
And maybe it's wishful thinking or the self-justification I always have to watch out for, but I just wonder if it's true: that the very temple trip I'm feeling so lame about ("I can't believe I fell asleep, again, and I didn't even hear half of the proceedings, and I kept wondering what time it was, and now I'm going to rush home and immediately lose any of the peace I felt there by being late to the kids' piano lesson, and this all could have been avoided if I just had woken up with my alarm instead of lazily turning it off twice"—) maybe, that very temple trip IS beautiful and sacrificial and important to God, because it was hard for me, and He knows that, and I did it anyway. And later, looking back on this life, I will see my life more clearly and say, "Those times pacing the hall during church with a baby, wishing I was home in bed; and those times I read the scriptures in 30-second bursts between interruptions and ended with a frustrated sigh and failure to even remember one word of what I'd read—those were holy times, consecrated by their ordinariness, sanctified by the fact that —though I wished I was doing more—I was still doing something."

(Or, then again…maybe not. Maybe I really will be as exasperated with myself later as I am now, and be thinking, "What on earth. Couldn't you have just gone to bed earlier, for Pete's sake?") :)

A harrowing tale, and some random pictures

So, we went to see the AirMed helicopter at the hospital. We had just been studying helicopters and that very day there was a Health Fair with the helicopter, which seemed lucky, and off we went to see it.

Normally I steer well clear of things like this. Things like what? Things where you go there carefree and unfettered, and you come home bent over double with bags of color-changing pencils, "Junior Firefighter" stickers, plastic tooth-shaped vitamin holders, foldable frisbees, and "Benny the Blood Cell Goes to Dialysis" coloring books.
We did get these bunny ears, which was some small comfort. I really just…don't know why Seb is standing in that pose. (Note, in background, human in grape costume. No amount of bunny ears can make up for that.)
But there we were, and of course the children wanted to go visit every booth and spin every wheel, and the baby was home with Sam, sleeping, so…okay. Against my better judgement, we stayed.

It was all right at first. The kids got to sit in the driver's seat of a Trax train and honk the horn. That was fun.
We walked past the inflatable colon. Stopped at the "see the germs on your hand under a black light" booth. Declined to enter a drawing for a free Mammogram. Picked up "Drink to your health" water bottles. Tossed rings at the "Timmy the Tissue can blow his Nose!" display. Spun the wheel for "the ABC's of Melanoma." I could see our car in the parking lot. We were getting so close!

And then disaster struck.

"Kids! Do you like basketball! Come play basketball with A Jazz Player!" trilled a lady, collaring us. The children looked at me in mute appeal. So did The Jazz Player, a sad-looking fellow standing in the empty parking lot by the basketball hoop, probably resenting the clause in his contract that required him to appear at events where the generic title A Jazz Player brought more attention, such as it was, than his own unknown name.

We all looked at each other, caught in a web not of our making, but all of us powerless to escape. The children trooped over and were handed balls. "Foul shots?" sighed The Jazz Player, dribbling.
None of the children made a foul shot. They tried again. Nothing. And a third time, amid strained encouragement from The Jazz Player. We made moves toward leaving, smiling weakly. "Ask them a trivia question!" came the lady's voice, fluting over the parking lot. The Jazz Player murmured something about BYU and the boys mumbled something about Jimmer Fredette, and then we all turned away from each other in mutual relief.

But—"Jazz Dancers!" chirped the lady, appearing at Malachi's elbow. He followed her meekly.
They taught him some sort of routine. He snapped his fingers and shuffled from side to side obediently, while they bounced their hair and chanted "A-five-and-six-and-seven-and-eight! Snap, snap, back-left-back! A-right-and-back-and-over-and-kick! Snap! Arms! Side and turn! Over and up and arms and again!" I could just see the "which-one-is-left-again?" wheels spinning, vainly, in Malachi's little brain.
 Meanwhile, the other children had been hustled over to "shoot around" on another hoop. Another Jazz Player took pity on Daisy, who talked and talked and talked to him while he held her up to the basket. A Handler looked on admiringly.

Finally, we saw some other kids approaching, and we hustled out of there, smiling and nodding and trying to make appreciative noises that conveyed a sense that we not only knew The Jazz Players' names, but also their stats and from which teams they'd been traded.

At least we managed to avoid talking to the people in Grapes and Banana costumes.
*******
 Well! On to happier subjects! This Goldie-girl prances when she walks. Prances, I tell you!
When we were at the Air Force Museum, I assigned each boy to a younger girl. It was brilliant. Each boy had a captive audience to impress with his vast stores of airplane knowledge (real or imagined), and the girls followed like little ducklings, appropriately agog. And I sat and nursed Theo in comfort beneath the B-17 Bomber. Very nice, all around.
Speaking of little Theo, he is very small. He is shaped somewhat like an otter pop or popsicle, but he can fold his legs up like a frog.
I really do like babies best in soft snuggly things, little rompers and onesies. But he does look very nice in Sunday clothes. This was back in July.
Here he is last Sunday, prior to being beamed up to heaven on a ray of light.
Here he is having decided to forego the light-beam and stay on earth to show off his dimples.
Eeek! We love him so much!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Random Thoughts, with clouds

Love that glowing spot that looks like lava: those slow-flowing crackly black parts with the red showing through
• I have discovered a lovely prescription for that most absorbing and unending of tasks, meal planning and preparation. It is simply this. I only ask myself to reach one (1) of the following ideals: Nourishing, Inexpensive, Quick. If I get two of those, wonderful; it's a good day and I can be extremely proud of myself. Getting all three is basically unattainable so I don't even worry about it. (I'm sure there are meals that satisfy all three requirements, but setting that up as my standard was proving to be paralyzing.)

• I found great truth in this quote from Thomas Sowell:
“Each new generation born is in effect an invasion of civilization by little barbarians, who must be civilized before it is too late.”
I mean, first of all: yes! Barbarians, every last one of them! Where they get the ideas to do some of the things they do, I am at a loss to explain! But more seriously, these talks get at the problem of how to go about bringing up our children in light and truth: this one, and this one. Both very good.
• I've had trouble with the word "enmity" for some time now…thinking it's "emnity." I should be able to remember, because enmity starts just like enemy, but I guess the -mity ending throws me off; I think it should be -nity like eternity. Anyway, a similar word I didn't even know I was having trouble with: remuneration! It has to do with paying someone, so I just assumed the root was numer as in number or counting; like enumerate. But I guess it's not. The -mun root (I learned) comes from the Latin muner, to give. Thus: reMUNERation, not reNUMERation.

• I learned that, by the way, while listening to my favorite audiobook series of all time: P.G. Wodehouse's Jeeves books read by Jonathan Cecil. (You really can't go wrong, but this is an excellent oneas is this.) Jonathan Cecil said "re-MUN-eration" very clearly in his lovely accent, and I thought, "Wait, he said that wrong—but Jonathan Cecil cannot be wrong!" So I looked it up and he was right, of course. Anyway, if you haven't read these books, you owe it to yourself to remedy that. They're among the funniest stories of all time. And having them read TO you, in a variety of impeccable British accents, is a pleasure not often paralleled in this fallen world of ours. Sam and I like to take them on long car trips and guffaw our way through the hours.
• I may have mentioned before how much I dislike writing in a conventional journal. It's not the cataloguing of daily life I object to; it's how I do it that I hate. (It's one reason I started this blog, in fact: when I have even the possibility of a real audience, I am forced to confront my own lazy, sappy, sloppy writing and see it for what it is. And eliminate some of it, hopefully.) (While I'm off on parenthetical asides, I'll also mention that this 5-year journal has worked well for me too. No room for sentiment!)  At any rate, this blog post captured my own feelings perfectly:
"This should be the year I scan all my old diaries from college and throw out most of them. I wince when I read them, for every possible reason. The writing. The concerns. The politics. The well-ordered and endless parade of delusions. How you can lie to yourself in your own diaries is a subject for study; surely I’m not the only one. This is what I should feel, therefore I’m going to say I feel it. 
Yes! It's depressing. And a good reminder that even if you have what historians consider a good "primary source" document (someone's journal, a letter, etc) you have nothing like the whole story. I can't even correctly record, let alone explain, my own feelings sometimes! And that's assuming I'm not misrepresenting them, knowingly or unknowingly, for some reason.
• Speaking of everyday life, I sometimes wonder how similar my everyday life is to my mom's life, or my Nana's. (And this is where I have to admit that yes, I would like to read a journal of theirs, no matter how badly written. But saying to myself, when writing a journal, that "my posterity will want to read this someday," just makes me WORSE.) The work of caring for homes and children has many constants, but then again, so much has changed! Still, there are some things that make me feel like I have truly joined the ancient sisterhood of Women. Braiding hair. Hemming things. Rolling out pie crust. Hanging clothes on the clothesline. I like it.

• From the sign at our local hospital, almost a sort of slogan, like "Got Milk?" But instead: "Chronic Wounds?" Strikes me as a strange thing to lead with. But I suppose I may be shortchanging the masses driving by, weeping with relief: "Yes! Yes! I have them! Please, tell me how to proceed?"