Catherine, Lost and Found

Thursday, October 29, 2020

This story is of my 7th great grandmother Catherine, pictured on the right, next to her husband Alexander. Earlier this year I felt pulled to find and tell her story. Because Catherine did not keep journals and because the only records for her are brief mentions in her husband's biography, most of my understanding of Catherine's story has come through meditative and dream experiences, as well as some creative imaginings from my own experiences as a woman and mother to fill in any blanks. Its taken me months to gain her trust and learn to understand what she most needed from me. I am grateful for the thinness between veils during this Samhain time because it has provided great clarity and purity of communication and understanding between Catherine and I. We have accomplished something we are both proud of.



......

Catherine Elinore Lince Beckstead, born July 6, 1807 in Williamsburg, Canada, just north of the St. Lawrence river that borders upstate New York, was a little girl once. And though I can't say for certain, I imagine her to be always in love with something. With a heart open to the sky, the trees, the river that carried her secrets and dreams out to sea, how could she not be? Catherine, who loved vanilla custard and the smell of freshly-turned dirt on her family's farm, had a heart for adventure and a lust for something more. What exactly, she couldn't say, but the way the fish glimmer just beneath the surface of rushing water and the nodding of the wildflowers at the edge of the woods whispered hints tp her every once in a while. Yes, more. Something more. And so her childhood was one of chores like baking bread, sweeping floors, planting seeds, shucking corn; but it was also a childhood of picking sun-ripened berries from the bushes. What July lass can resist the sugared promises of destiny?


Was it destiny, Catherine, that brought Alexander to you? You played as children together. Perhaps you were friends that made mud pies and looked for frogs in the irrigation ditches. Maybe there was a childhood hate there, an envy, a jealousy of the way he got to ride the horses with your brothers, swim the river naked with your brothers, be free, like your brothers. Maybe he promised you freedom when he proposed marriage to you. At 15, a girl with a heart open to the sky, the trees, the river that carried her secrets and dreams out to sea, how could you not believe him?

Together you both created a life you thought you'd love - your own home, your own farm, your own family. Not long after you turned 16, you gave birth to Margaret, your perfect baby girl. And in years coupled together, Gordon and Henry and William came too. And for a moment, everything was perfect. The babies cried and there were always chores, the same chores of baking bread and sweeping floors and then some, but all seemed right in the world. The fish scales still glimmered, the wind still shared her laughter with you, the clouds still brought in blessings like rain. Yes, Catherine. This is the life you wanted. This is the life you deserved.

Then suddenly, William died. At nine months old, that baby boy died. He slipped out right from under you, through your fingers, in your arms - no one's really sure how it happened, and neither are you. That's why you never wrote it down. He was there one moment, and the next you were hanging a freshly-cleaned cloth diaper on the line for the last time. Your breasts were still heavy with milk, your arms still heavy with the grief, nowhere to put any of it, so it absorbed into the same softness your body was using now for another baby, already 3 months along in your womb.

Things were different after William. You stopped hearing cloud songs and the river lost her sparkle. Even when Harriet was born, you couldn't stop the flood of worries. Who will you lose next? Who will will disappear into the cold softness of your grief? You were sure it would be another one of your children. You were so wrapped in your shawl of tender loss and increased responsibility, you had no time, no energy, no life left to pay attention to Alexander. That's when you lost him. You may hate me, Catherine, for speaking the truth out loud, but you must allow me here to open this wound. With William, Alexander lost himself too.

He was alive enough to plow the fields and trade and barter and lick the lingering lard from the biscuits you baked for dinner each night, but not enough life was left in him to love. The warm arms you slept in turned cold from blame and hatred. His affections didn't turn elsewhere; they just up and vanished, just like your little William. And then, you were alone in most senses of the word. Alone, with Margaret and Gordon and Henry and now, Harriet too. Alone, with emptiness to hold and no one to hold you.



Years went by, and with them more children came. But it was around this time too that Alexander met the Mormons. With the missionaries, everything changed, especially Alexander. He was alive again. Not alive enough to love, but alive enough to find Jesus and try. That's good enough, you thought to yourself, and it was out of this sheer woman's hope , that you agreed to move to the United States and put down roots in Missouri.

But you weren't there long. Catherine, you never kept journals, but the horrors I know you saw in Missouri haunt you to this day. I know, because I have dreams of them. Eventually your family escaped with the Saints to Nauvoo, Illinois. And for just a moment, everything was right again. Not perfect, maybe, and not the warm life you'd known in Canada, but it was right. William was gone, but Alexander, was born anew. There was warmth in his eyes, in his arms, in your bed again. You were familiar with not enough by now, so good enough felt just right to you.

Then Joseph Smith died, and the Saints, led by that character Brigham, made their way across the plains to Utah. You had 10 children now, and the trek was intimidating. More than that though, was a feeling. Just a feeling, you told yourself, but the sinking, writhing in your stomach said otherwise. You tried to convince Alexander to stay, but he was determined. "After all, we've come this far," he said, and like a good wife, you didn't argue. Your energy was spent elsewhere - on the twins growing in you.

Your journey began, and I refuse to desecrate it now with primary songs of pioneers singing and dreaming and come come ye July 24th fireworks and parades, because the walk and the handcart and the story of your crossing is nothing to sing about. Screaming, perhaps, but what song can honor the truth of Lucy Ann, your 13 year old baby lady, buried in an unmarked grave beside the trail?



The books and records don't say why, from what, or exactly how. But it matters little. Lucy Ann was there one moment, and the next there was freshly-turned dirt and wildflowers sodden with tears where her freckles and soft-beating joy used to be. Lucy Ann, who had never rested safely since moving from Canada, who walked from violence to violence as one changes coats for shawls as the seasons turn, rested now.

I know you wanted to mourn. I know you wanted to scream at the sky, beat your fists on the heart and Alexander's chest, but everyone urged you to stay calm and press on. After all, the babies needed you. And so you endured, like the good Mormon girl you'd become. And on an August summer morning, there was blood, birth, breath as John Alma arrived earthside, pink and hungry. And on that same August summer morning, there was freshly-turned dirt and wildflowers sprinkled with tears for Mary Ellen, who arrived long enough to breathe a breath that was both her hello and farewell.

Mourn not, they said. I can hear it now. What do they know? You couldn't see it then Catherine, but I can now, and I will tell you: they, the grand "they" of prophets and prideful men, have forgotten what it means to be alive. They have forgotten the rightness of sodden wildflowers, of bursting and breaking and the beating of chests. They have forgotten that it is from the ashes of grief that love is reborn.

William. Lucy. Mary. You did not grieve them then. Can I let you in on a little secret? Glimmering fish and sparkling waters that carry your secret dreams out to sea makes for a good story, but it makes for a shallow life. Even if you've never admitted it to anyone, you know in the way important things are known that fish, especially those that glimmer, are caught, gutted, roasted, eaten; that rivers that sparkle run over rock and carry sediment and shells sharp as knives out to sea. Life is rarely kind, Catherine, but it was especially not so to you. Can you see that now? Can you grieve that now? Come, let us gather the tattered scraps of promise and weave our stories together. I'll warp, you weft. It is the tension between us that binds.



You made it to Utah, and This Is The Place looked more like tumbleweed and crumbling rock than it did a blossoming rose. Alexander decided to settle the area of South Jordan. I'm not sure if you'll be happy to know this or not, but the city still exists and their website, unlike their monuments, lists Alexander and your name as the founding members of the city. But Catherine, I know this matters little to you, and so it matters little to me. You'd rather be remembered for William, for Lucy, for Mary, and Amanda Jane, who died just a year after arriving to Utah, right after her eighth birthday.

What you'd rather not be remembered for is your husband, who had forgotten the love and the family of his youth, who had all but abandoned his heart somewhere between Ottowa and South Jordan, and spent his days digging ditches that would one day be known as the South Jordan canal. You spent your days split, looking after the 12 children living, and looking for the 4 gone in the darkness of the dirt dugout you had to call home. I know you looked for them. I know you are looking for them still. Catherine, between you and me, you've really messed up my ideas of heaven and hell. You come to me in dreams and tell me you can't find Lucy and Mary, and you weep the bitter tears I used to think were reserved for sin alone. All is not well, and has not been for some time.

When Alexander came to you and told you he was taking a second wife, you had no fight in you left. That was always his way - to ask for just the thing when you were too tired and overworked to give an opinion one way or another. He didn't love you; not like he used to. Not like he should. So what did it matter to you that he took another wife?

Indeed, I would like to know Catherine, what did it matter to you when Alexander, 52 married Keziah Petty, 19? What did it matter to you, to see his arms and lips and legs wrapped around a woman, a ghost-in-living-flesh of the woman you used to be? Young and bright like the glimmering sea? What did it matter to you that Keziah's son looked a spitting image of William, the only difference being that her's lived and yours did not? And what did it matter to you that soon after that, Alexander, 54 married Clarissa, 19? And kept wrapping and kissing and sleeping and being, but not with you? What was it to you to be together apart?



Catherine, there is an old story from your homeland of creatures called the huldra. Perhaps you know it? The huldra are a species of shapeshifting forest creatures. Sometimes they are fox, or deer, or wolf, but they all have one thing in common in their human form: from the front they look like a beautiful woman, but if you were ever to catch a glimpse of their back, you would see a gaping hole that revealed the emptiness inside their being. They were known for seducing men into their bed, allowing the men to live if they pleased them and killing them if they did not. Therefore, it is always a risk to love a huldra.

It might please you, Catherine, to hear me call Keziah and Clarissa huldra, but I cannot tell a lie. The huldra your husband loved and worshipped was known by different names: polygamy. pride. gluttony. greed. lust. fear. privilege. pain. This huldra called to him from the edges of being to satisfy her again and again with more, more, more. Again and again he answered, spilling his seed from his hard and hollow love into a creature that wanted nothing more than a warm body to suck life from. For what can fill a bottomless chasm?

Alexander died in the arms of the huldra that had taken over what we now call the Church of Jesus Christ (of Latter-Day Saints). If only they were as picky about the way they treated their people as they are about their name. Even after his death, you watched the huldra consume the people you loved most - your sons, your daughters, your friends. You died in 1889. You were warm and safe in your daughter's home. I'd like to think that then, just for a moment here, a moment there, everything was right. Not perfect, and not the life you'd have known in Canada, but good enough.

You passed, Catherine, but only to the other side. I've never been there, and I can't claim in good conscience to know anything about what it might be like. But I met you in a roller skating rink in a dream once. Was that a hint? Either way, I have a message for you.

Catherine, you have wept in the night to me that Lucy Ann and Mary Ellen are lost to you. This has always confused me, because even though I too have wept for their pain and yours, they don't feel lost to me. They have never visited me, nor I them, but I feel them, nearer than breath if I slow down to notice. I couldn't understand why you couldn't feel them too. But then, last night, I remembered the huldra.



Catherine, my friend, my mother, with all the love in my heart I must tell you that Lucy and Mary are not lost. You have simply been looking in the wrong place. There is no life for the living or the dead in the back of a huldra. Sometimes promises are so beautiful that they obscure pain and untruth behind them. I say this with the gentleness of a mother wrapping a blanket over a sleeping child: perhaps you were lied to. Perhaps the huldra, wrapped in the guise of a patriarchal religion with a vengeful god and a thinly-veiled suspicion of women, still is keeping you enraptured. Will you come away with me, Catherine?

Stories from your homeland, from the wisdom older than history tell of a place, not so unlike the "other side," called the Other World. Here there is food and dessert of every kind, of fine wine and great halls full of laughter, of joy and pleasure. Here families feast together, love is found again and anew, and something with a strikingly Godlike is there. But here in the Other World, she is known by different names. I wonder what hers is to you?

You know, in the way important things are known, how to get there. Go to the bank of the river. Yes. The very same one with glimmering fish and shimmering secrets and dreams carried out to sea. Begin walking. Wade until you must swim, for what do you see on the opposite bank? Could it be?

William, Lucy, Mary, Amanda, waiting for you in the warmth of the arms of the Queen.



A Perfect Reflection

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

 Its a strange tale, isn't it? As if a man who loves no one can fall in love with himself. Its downright impossible.

But impossible things happen every day. And why not? You are here, after all, alive in a world on fire. Are you weary, traveler? What burdens I see you carry. Come, rest here beside me, at the edge of the pool. Take off your shoes and dip your toes in the water. Feel how it cools and quenches the burn of your tired feet? Can you feel it inviting you in, deeper and deeper into soft, surrounding peace? This is the gift of Limnoula, for those who are willing. Limnoula, the name for She who has seen it all. She was there that day, you know. She saw that man fall in love with himself. Listen, can you hear? If we are quiet she will tell us the story.
 

Long ago, in my homeland, there was a man renowed for his beauty. His hair was black as the seas of the North. His eyes were soft and green as the moss that grows over the rocks in the woods. His skin was dark and warm like the crust of a well-baked dutch oven bread. Its no wonder he was loved by so many. He could hunt, run, swim, and fight as well as the other men in the village, no better, no worse. But Narcissus was as selfish and pompous as he was beautiful. He forgot the simple truth that gifts are meant to be shared.
Oh, there were those that would have him. Plenty of women and plenty of men, young and old alike longed to share themselves with him, and he was happy to oblige them the pleasures of his mouth and body. But his heart he would give to no one. Some say he was afraid. Some say he was proud. I might be tempted to agree, but what I saw the day he died was neither pride nor fear. It haunts me still.
At first, when Nemesis arrived at my shores and told me what she planned to do, I argued. After all, Narcissus was young, and hubris is natural for those born gifted. 
"Surely, he will grow out of it in time?" I said to Nemesis, unsure of why her punishment was so severe. She sat down on the bank, propped her elbows on her knees, and held her face in her hands. "I don't think so, Limnoula. Not this time." I knew Nemesis to be fair to a fault, so her surety alarmed me. "What happened?" I asked.
 

"Narcissus had a certain lover, Ameinius, who cared for him above all else in his life. It was nothing short of obsession, as humans in love are bound to fall in from time to time. But Narcissus became increasingly annoyed with Ameinius. Ameinius did all he could to keep Narcissus' love, but Narcissus, he didn't care. No, more than just uncaring. He was unfeeling. Ameinius came to him one day and professed his love, saying that it would be better for him to die than to never feel Narcissus' love returned. So Narcissus presented Ameinius with a gold-gilted sword and told him to prove his love by killing himself. Ameinius did so, and with the sword through his stomach he turned to Narcissus and shared his love one last time. 
"Can you love me now?" He asked Narcissus. Narcissus bent low, cradled Ameinius's head in his hands and whispered softly into his ear. "I could never love you, not even now. Do not be sad, friend, for I do not hate you even. I feel nothing but gratitude for your sacrifice in my name." With a smile he laid Ameinius on the ground and walked away. With his dying breath, Ameinius asked the Gods to punish Narcissus. So I am tasked, and I have decided his punishment."
 

The horror of Narcissus' story stirred up the silt beneath me. The cruelty was heavy and dark to hold. "What do you plan to do?" I asked Nemesis. She said, "The curse has already been placed. He has planned a hunting trip in these woods tomorrow. When he arrives to your waters, he will look in and see his reflection and become transfixed by it. He will be unable to turn away, pulled again and again back to his own image. If he reaches down to drink, he will find his thirst impossible to nourish. He will die slowly, Limnoula. And now that you know my plan, I need your help."
I was afraid. How could I face such a man? But Nemesis is my friend, and her judgments, though harsh, were always true. "What do you need me to do?" I asked.
"There is only one way for the curse to be lifted. If Narcisuss comes to an awareness of what he has done, his grief will be overwhelming. He will surely mourn the death of Ameinius. If a single tear drops to your surface, the curse will broken, and he will be free. I need you to do two things. One, account for the tears that fall, and two, be still and be clear, stiller and clearer than you have ever been. If he awakens to himself, he must give and receive a full and undistorted accounting. He must see clearly. Only then can he be forgiven."
 I agreed. The next morning, Narcissus arrived. It happened just like Nemesis said it would. He cupped his hands and bent low to drink, and as he did so, the enchantment was sealed. From the moment he locked eyes with his reflection, he did not look away.
 

Narcissus, with hair as dark as the waters of the North, with eyes as green as forest moss, with skin as warm and dark as bread crust, was beautiful. But it hurt to look at him. I looked for hubris, for fear, for pride, for pain, for anything. What I saw as the day went by was not the eyes of a young man astray, not pain wanting to be passed on. When I looked into those soft green eyes from below, I saw nothing within or behind them. And that is when I understood. This was a man who wanted nothing of love. All he desired was worship.
Dead eyes are unforgivable, not because there is no forgiveness available but because they believe they do not need it. Nemesis came to sit by Narcissus in his final hours on the shore. As death loomed closer, it became increasingly clear that there would be no tears, not one spared for himself or the death of his lover. No matter how still my surface, how clear his reflection, Narcissus would not see. And so he died that day, in the evening as a breeze passed by and shook the leaves of the trees. In his place grew a small nodding flower which always has its head turned down and shows itself only in the spring. Why Nemesis choose a daffodil to remind the world of the story of Narcissus, I'm not sure. Maybe she didn't want the world to forget that not love is worth living for, not dying.
 

Fire & Midwives

Thursday, June 4, 2020

 The world is on fire. Good.


 

Because sometimes things need to burn in order for new things to grow. Some plant seeds are unable to sprout until they have been subjected to intense heat. It is true for new systems too.
So if you feel shifts beneath your feet, if you feel like your world is on fire, you're not wrong. It absolutely is. What you're feeling is real.
And I've been watching people on my social media feeds trying to put the fire out with metaphorical garden hoses. At first I was angry. But now I feel comfort, because garden hoses are no match for forest fires. This movement feels big because it is big. The US is in labor right now: we are collectively trying to birth something new.  Sure sure, labor sucks and it involves sweat, tears, and pain, but at the end of it is something glorious, promising, and beautiful.
I deeply want to midwife this process. I can offer my encouragement, my strength, my energy, my everything, but I know that I do not know how to give birth to what needs to be born. And I really feel that in discussions of race, the role of midwife is one of the most impactful for white women.
Black people have been pushing, pushing, pushing for change.  And instead of showing up with an epidural to numb the pain, midwives understand that the pain makes sense for what is happening, and so they do all they can to ease it. Back rubs, hot baths, kind words. Midwives offer solutions and support, understanding that ultimately, it is the person giving birth that should have the ultimate say in how the birth happens.  Midwives care and advocate for and protect the birthing person, watching out for their health and safety as they journey through the process.  But midwives never birth the baby: the victory belongs to the mother alone. The distinction is subtle yet necessary.
Women, we know what it is to be harmed in the birthing process. We know what it is to be cut in our tenderest places, to be unheard, to be invalidated and invisible. We know what it is to have our power overridden, to be vulnerable and exposed and taken advantage of all the same anyway. And this means we know better. We know better than to do the same to someone else.

 

A sign at the George Floyd protest said " All mothers were summoned when George Floyd called out for his momma." Mamas, we have to show up for this birth and we have to learn how to be effective midwives. I do not pretend to know perfectly what that looks like but I do know we have to try to figure it out. I do know birth is a serious matter, and therefore requires us to act with swiftly and deftly, with caution, care, and bravery. The time to both prepare AND act is now. We have no choice but to show up and learn on the job, because the collective is in transition. Birth is nigh. Our Black friends need us: not to save them, but to make and hold space long enough for them to step in safely and stay there.
The world is on fire and its re-birth is imminent. Breathe and ease the pain wherever and however you are able.

Substitute Teacher

Thursday, March 26, 2020

 I refuse to pretend the classroom

my daughter's teacher sent a video of this evening
is truly empty.

Every table had something stacked on top - 
six stools, four green plastic adirondack chairs,
six baby blue pleather ottomans and their pals,
the floor cushions, and six small chairs - 
turned upside down and huddled together
as if the floor below was lava.

The books on the shelves kept their stories.
The puzzles on the shelf in the corner were
perfectly lined up, sighing in relief at 
finally having all their pieces home.
The organizer holding all the name tags for the children
proudly displayed a class full of absentees.

"They sent us all home," her teacher said.
The laundry basket on her desk bearing manila file folders
and her signature red purse made the transition final.

I hate what has arrived in the wake of loss.
I am not ready for a gift.
I do not like this substitute teacher
named Grief.

The Land of Promise (A Sunday School Lesson)

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

These are my notes and outline of a Sunday School lesson I taught on 2/2/20. I was assigned chapters in the Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi 16-22, which covers the story of Lehi's family in the wilderness, Nephi's broken bow, Nephi building a ship, and Lehi's family arriving in the Promised Land.

I try to make my blog posts (and lessons) relatable enough for everyone, no matter what stage of faith development or what spiritual path you find yourself on, but I do understand that the context of this post and the audience it was written for (Mormons) is pretty niche. If you have no idea what or no desire to know what I'm talking about, I want you to know thats 100% ok and I truly, really, with all my love encourage you to skip this one.
...



One of God's favorite things to do is call people into the wilderness. It sounds weird, but think about it. What stories do you know from sacred text where wilderness wanderings were a God-led thing?

In case you need a few examples to get you started:

  • our beloved pioneers
  • the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt
  • the Jaredites
  • The prophet Elijah
  • Christ in the desert for 40 days
Today, we are going to use the journey of Lehi's family as an archetype to work with and see what applications it has for our own lives. I'd love for you to think of two things: a journey in your past and a journey you are presently on. It can be a literal journey, it can be a journey of faith, a journey of trial, whatever comes to you. Just hold those two experiences close as we examine this story.

Every journey starts with a call into the wilderness. Sometimes we are led, sometimes we are pushed, and sometimes we are dragged kicking and screaming along the way. Truly, I think it really doesn't matter whether we embark on the journey as a faithful Nephi or a murmuring Lemuel. At some point, all that matters is that we answer the call. Sure, there is something to be said about having a trusting heart and a "go and do" attitude, but be honest with yourself - do you always respond that way? I don't. In fact, its something like 70% of the time I resist the call until it becomes impossible to ignore, murmuring in fear the entire way.

No matter the posture of our heart and spirit, when we follow the call, we step into the unknown. We have left the beginning and for the rest of our journey we find ourselves in the arduous and challenging middle of our story. As we get further into our journey, with wilderness behind and before us, I think its pretty normal to get (or at least feel) lost. It makes sense then to ask for directions.

This reminds me of a verse from Proverbs 3
Trust in the Lord with all thine heart and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways, acknowledge (or turn to) him and he shall direct thy paths.
God is good.
God's promises are good,
and God makes good on every promise.



So it makes sense then that God would direct the paths we are called to. We can trust God's directions.

Sometimes the directions make perfect sense,
and sometimes you walk out of the house to rush your kids to school and find a fancy brass compass ball thing on your porch.

The idea of the Liahona is pretty wild, which is wonderful for me because I am absolutely obsessed with these weird stories. Lucky for me the scriptures are full of them. I mean, brass ball compasses, blind people seeing, people building boats without Youtube, dead people not dead anymore... wild. Our sacred stories are weird and complex and mystical and magical. That is why I love them.

So instead of thinking about the Liahona as a literal ancient artifact, I'd like you to think about it more like a metaphor for your two journeys. What has been a Liahona to you? What has guided you when you've felt lost? What has pointed the way when you needed direction? What guides you even now?

At the beginning of the year, my ward had what they called a "musical testimony meeting". Members had the opportunity to stand up, share their favorite hymn and why it was meaningful to them (in less than 60 seconds - believe it or not, no one spoke for more than that) and then the congregation sang one verse from their favorite hymn. I loved hearing how many of those songs had carried people through some of the darkest times in their life.

For me personally, something that has carried me is Mary Oliver's poem "Wild Geese". It has guided me and offered comfort for many years.



But there is a real kicker about the Liahona. The text says it runs on faith. Like, faith is its power source. So my question is

What happens then when you're fresh out of faith?

What happens when you had a baby six months ago
and every morning since, you've woken up from your nightly 3 hour nap
with a heaviness that envelops you,
that slumps your shoulders
lower, lower;
threatening to sink your ship
that barely stays afloat now?
and every evening as you lay you down to sleep
you think
"give me this night
tomorrow's breath"
because you're not sure you'll make it.
Faith? Fresh out.

What happens in the moments when you look in the mirror
and you don't recognize yourself because you're
tired, ragged, running to a hundred doctor's visits
only to get a slice of news here, some there,
most of it not good.
and you're worried, you're afraid,
especially when you're laying in a backless hospital gown,
waiting.
What happens when someone says
"have faith" then?
Do you turn your eyes to the speckled grid ceiling and whisper,
"I'm fresh out, God."

What then?
Does the Liahona still work
when you're fresh out of faith?

I think of Jairus who was once caught in a moment like these. His daughter had just died. He did the only thing, the last option left, by going to Christ and asking for help. Upon hearing his request, Jesus asks Jairus, "Do you believe?" Jairus replies, "Yes Lord, I believe; help thou my unbelief."

All that was required in that moment was a mustard seed of faith. Such a small and simple thing. Nephi says in 1 Nephi 16:29
"by small means the Lord can bring about great things."
A lot of religious accounts I follow on Instagram will occasionally post an inspirational quote that says something along the lines of "How big is your faith?" as if the measure of it is what matters. But according to this passage, Nephi is essentially saying

it.doesn't.matter.

because God magnifies and multiplies all we offer.
even a mustard seed.
knock and it shall be opened to you -
even if you knock softly, gingerly;
even if all you can do is place an open palm on the door and weep.
ask and it shall be given -
even if the asking is a silent, desperate,
half-feeling prayer.

because God is good
to me,
to you,
to all.

To those that cry out with quivering breath,
who hold their mustard seed with trembling hands,
God gives this promise:

"out of them shall proceed thanksgiving;
I will glorify them,
and they shall not be small."

All of this to say, friends, that the Liahona works on faith.
Not big faith.
Not mountain faith.
Not Nephi-large-in-stature faith

just faith.
only what you can muster in this moment.



So returning to our story of Lehi's family in the wilderness, very soon after they receive the Liahona, a series of tragedy strikes, culminating in the story of Nephi's broken bow. Archetypally, this is the point when the journey's trajectory arrives at a cross-roads.

There are two examples in this story to follow:

  1. Nephi, who does stuff
  2. everyone else, who complains
To be fair, lets get real right now.

Have you ever lived with a 3 year old? I currently do. I love my little guy to pieces, but I like him just a tiny bit less when he crawls into my bed at 5:30 am and says - with morning breath right up to my nose - 

"Mooooooommmmm
I huuuungry.
I waaaaant a prooooooteeeeein baaaaaar."

Because I'm a good mom, of course

I turn over and pray my most sincere prayer
that if I promise to lay very still and quiet,
he will think I'm asleep and he might go back to sleep too.

Just as I think my prayers are answered,
he asks again,
louder this time,
until there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Hunger is a real thing.
A three year old's hunger is a very real thing.
And there were definitely some 3 year olds 
in Lehi's family out there in the wilderness.
As a mom I can almost guarantee you that
most of the "murmuring" looked at lot like
my house at 5:45 pm when I call my hubs on his way home from work and say,
"The natives are restless. Please bring pizza."



So today instead of giving you a speech about pulling yourself up by the bootstraps Rachel Hollis style, to make yourself a bow and be the hero of your own story, I'd like to offer you a new perspective. The hunger, pain, and doubt Lehi and his family experienced were real. As real as your own hunger. As real as your own pain, your own doubts. Nephi did NOT look down on them or tell them to stop their whining. 

No. He sat with them, encouraged them, and with his own strength and faith he helped them. There are times when we need people in our lives to step up, step in, and help us. I look at these verses as an opportunity to honor those who have helped us in our wilderness. How have others used their strength to bless you in times of trial?

Very soon after we moved into this ward, I got a phone call on Pie Day. A new friend asked if I'd like to come over and bake a fresh pie. "You see," she said, "its my mother's birthday. She passed away a while ago, but I always like to do something fun to honor her and pie just seems like the right thing to do." There was no way in heck I was going to say no to 1. a tender invitation like that, and 2. fresh banana cream pie. She was kind and welcoming and tender in a way I had not felt since moving from Phoenix.

A few months later, I fell into a really bad depression. A quiet friend followed me closely on Instagram, and on some of my hardest days she left 2 liters of Dr. Pepper, fancy lavender dish soap, and kind notes of encouragement. She never knocked, never asked for a bit of my time or any recognition. Just kindness and friendship and the pure act of Christlike love.

On one of these hard days, I woke up to find that my dear, sweet 3 year old had turned the temperature control on our fridge to "OFF" and all the perishable food was warm and spoiled. I had just done a huge Costco run the day before, so hundreds of dollars worth of food was wasted. That day, another sweet friend invited my son to play while I went for a small grocery run AND made my family dinner that night, which helped my budget and stress levels immensely. 

These are small and simple acts of kindness that are not small at all. I needed these gifts of strength because at the time I was fresh out. These people stepped in, stepped up, and helped me. We cannot always be a Nephi. Luckily, we don't have to be.



We know that in the end, Lehi's family's story ends well. Nephi makes a bow, finds food, builds a boat, everyone travels overseas and makes it to the promised land. In our own lives and journeys, we rarely have the benefit of knowing how our story will end, but we always still have the promise that goes hand-in-hand with the call.

God is good.
God's promises are good,
and God makes good on every promise.

What is your promised land? I'm not talking about primary answers. (spoiler alert: we all make it in the end) What I'm really asking is 

What has God promised you?
What is the land of milk and honey on the other side of your wilderness?
If you don't know,
if no promises have been made yet, 
ask. right now.
Ask for an image of your promised land.

You don't have to know how to get there
because God is good.
God will direct your paths.
God makes good on every promise.

Wherever you are now, 
you have everything you need 
to get you there.
One small step forward,
one little push forward,
what you have in this moment
is all that is needed to get you to 
the Land of Promise.


*This is a drawing I did for my class. For me, my promised land is symbolized by a honey bee. I found all the loving phrases in these chapters that started with "be" and made sure to include them here.*

Phone Calls & Cigarettes

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

  A few weeks ago, a woman I follow on Instagram asked a question on one of her posts and encouraged everyone to write their response in the comments. Her question? "What is the one thing you would say or ask Heavenly Mother right now?"

The responses were equally eye-opening and heartbreaking. "I would ask her to tell me the story of how my spirit was born," one woman wrote. "I'd ask her to squeeze me tighter." "I want to know her favorite thing about me." "I would ask her if she would take extra special care of my boy 'til I get there." "I'd ask, 'Where are you?'"
My one ask was this: "Show me what it means to love myself."
 

No "please." No "If I could, I would ask..." I didn't realize this until later, but there was no separation between the possibility of or appropriateness of asking and the actual asking itself. Just my request, hanging out right there in the middle of Insta-land. Consciously, I wrote it as a question. Subconsciously, I already knew I'd get my answer soon.
So imagine my surprise as one day, right in the middle of an EMDR therapy session, Heavenly Mother reveals herself to me. For those of you who are unfamiliar with EMDR, it is a kind of therapy technique that accesses the subconscious mind. The mental state I am working in during these sessions is very similar to that of a dream. That's my most relatable way to describe it.
It was in an office setting. Heavenly Father sat behind a secretary's desk, shuffling through papers and licking his fingers occasionally as he sorted through the stacks. I walked up to him and said, "I want to see Heavenly Mother." He paused his work and looked up at me, smiling. "You know you don't have to ask. You know where she is. Just go in and see her," he said. As if all these years of being told by prophets, bishops, and Young Women and Relief Society presidents that talking to my big-M Mother was a huge no-no meant as much to him as the stack of papers in the "To Be Filed" folder on the corner of his desk. Alrighty then, I thought. I guess I will go and do.
As I walked to the door that I knew Heavenly Mother was waiting behind, I felt a rise of anticipation. Here was the moment I'd waited for for years. Of course I had ideas of what Heavenly Mother was like - or at least what I'd hoped and thought she was like. Over the last two years I have seen a handful of amateur and professional LDS artists paint her likeness. Among my favorites are those in the After Our Likeness collection by J. Kirk Richards and the works of Ettakay, but my assumption of Heavenly Mother as either a motherly or grandmotherly figure has gone quite unchallenged by every artistic representations of her I've come across. The moment I pushed open the door, I honestly expected to see an elderly face wrinkled with kind and twinkling eyes, and a woman with a heavy-set, long-ago postpartum, post-menopausal body draped in flowing white robes.
Instead, I found myself in a softly-lit room. Sensuous burgundy velvet drapes framed large windows, and the walls were the same shade of red, accented with a glinting gold pattern. Large paintings of still-life floral arrangements hung on the walls in gilded frames, and resting on an over-sized chaise lounge was a woman laying with her back turned to me, smoking a cigarette in a long, sheer, white lingerie robe. She took a moment to take another long inhale of her long lady's cigarette before puffing it out and turning towards me. I could hardly believe it when I realized I was looking into the eyes of Rizzo from the 70s film "Grease".
I panicked for a moment. This was Heavenly Mother? Holding a cigarette between rouged lips, dressed in a black nightie with a white silk robe and raising an eyebrow at me? What the heck was happening?
Before I had too much time to think about it, Rizzo put out her cigarette and pointed to a vintage pink rotary telephone on her nightstand. "You see that?" she asked me. I nodded. I knew exactly what it was. Over the last few weeks, the same image has been popping up on my Pinterest boards, social media pages, and in real (not EMDR) dreams. "We gonna start the revolution," she said.
 

Whatever this project was that Heavenly Rizzo was cooking up, I knew I wanted in. But something kept holding me back from a "yes." She must have seen these emotions play out on my face, because she asked me, "What's up?"
"I... I'm not ready," I said. "A revolution? How much more upheaval can I handle? I want a simple life. I want to garden, decorate my house, and write. I want to be a good mom. I want to love my hubs and I want to keep him around. I'm not sure how much more of feminism my marriage can handle. Not only that, but I am still right.in.the.middle of healing childhood trauma and now is the moment  you want to talk to me about revolution?"
"Its your choice, babe. Garden, grow one hundred zuchinni a summer. Mother, kiss those skinned knees and boil a thousand pots of water. No one here is stopping you from loving your man. He's a good one, and you ought to keep him. Give him time. All good things in time. But here's what you need to consider. Garden, mother, wife, full stop. Are you happy there? Is that really what you want? 'Cause you are the one who came barging into my bedroom mid-smoke with your big, heavy questions, and that doesn't sound to me like a woman content with the simple life. You can stop and turn around, back out anytime you like. But is what what you want?"
 

"Fine." I said. "You want me to say it out loud, right? Okay. I want more. I want a big-a** piece of your revolution cake. But a change on that scale needs power, and I don't think I have enough. Show me how..." my voice trailed off as I remembered the "ask" I had written on the Instagram post. Show me how to love myself. A lyric from Frozen II's "Show Yourself" came to me in that moment. Step into your power... 
"But I don't know how!" I said, tears of frustration welling in my eyes. Rizzo walked over to me, put her arm around my shoulder. From the pocket of her robe she pulled what looked like a business card and handed it to me. I read the writing on the front. "Get Out Of Jail Free" was printed in metallic rose gold ink.
"This is what I want you to do. For three days I want you to do nothing except listen to your body and do exactly what it tells you to in the moment. After three days, call me. If anyone judges you or tells you what you're doing is wrong, give them the card and tell them to come talk to me. I'll handle it." I agreed with a quick nod of my head as I wiped away my tears. At that moment, Secretary Heavenly Father walked in and poured himself a cup of coffee. 
"What are you girls up to?" he asked. 
"We're starting the revolution," Rizzo said.
"I expected nothing less," he said, pausing to smile gently at me wrapped beneath Rizzo's arm before taking a huge swig of his cuppa.
"Three days," Rizzo said as she turned to me. "If you don't call me, I'll call you. I know how much you hate the phone." I laughed. Suddenly I realized the phone on the nightstand was ringing, and I woke up, or "came to" my real life again, sitting on my therapist's white leather couch. I told her everything, questioning the validity of what just played out in my mind. "What's the harm in trying it out for a few days?" she asked mischievously.
 

Three days later, a phone rang. I answered.
"The revolution is already here," I said, a hint of girlish glee in my voice.
"Do your thing, girl," she said.
I smiled into the phone speaker and answered,
"With relish."

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