Category Archives: Sunday Sense

Fitting

How fitting is it that I begin the new year–in which I will receive my teaching credentials from the state–by teaching a class of 50 or so teens?

(Why did it take me almost two decades to realize what I wanted to do when I grew up? I was asked to teach teens just slightly younger than myself when I was 17, and I’ve done some version of it ever since.)

Also, that I began the new year by going to bed and getting up early; I’m going to need all the clarity of mind I can fuel this semester. Which sets me to reresolving in all sorts of categories like sleep and exercise and nutrition–in spite of past false starts.

Fitting, then also, this message from President Monson:

“Courage is required to make an initial thrust toward one’s coveted goal, but even greater courage is called for when one stumbles and must make a second effort to achieve. Have the courage not only to face the challenges that inevitably come but also to make a second effort, should such be required.”

Second, or seventy second, here we go again…


Captain Crunch, Doritos, and Cows

Son #1: “Mom!! Why do you keep eating raw corn?”

Me: “‘Cause it’s better for you.”

Son #2: “That’s a lie.”

[Ha. True.  I’m just too lazy to cook it.]

Son #2: “Dude, seriously: The only good thing that comes from corn is Captain Crunch, Doritos, and Cows.”


On Fence Posts

Heard a lot of whining lately from various individuals about the pointlessness of life; about how we work in order to eat in order to work, etc. How it’s all one big rat race. How we’re all slaves to some nebulous “them” who manipulate and take advantage of, from behind the scenes. How the only way to thwart the “system” is to do nothing at all until “they” come to their senses, until “they” fix things, until by some miracle the life we are faced with every day maybe looks precisely the way we think it should. How maybe even God is some omniscient, sadistic being in the same class as the kid who liked to pull legs off flies in the second grade.

Here’s the deal:

I don’t care how corrupt your employer is or how how uninformed you think your teachers or neighbors or elected representatives are; nobody else–no, not even God himself–can make your choices; you do that. Not the choices that make you a worthwhile human being. Not the choice to get up every morning and love your children or serve your neighbor or learn something new. Those are the choices that make you a flesh and blood person, not the choices that are made for you by the legislature or the idiot in the car in front of you.

And if you can’t see past the choices that are made for you–the nitty gritty inconveniences of life–to the larger choices that when made have the power to form you into a living, breathing, larger-than-one-isolated-life of a human being, then you run the risk of disappearing entirely, of becoming merely the detritus of the big machine you so despise.

No! It’s not easy to be a flesh-and-blood person in a world full of sharp corners and ragged edges and impossible inclines. Of course not. Because even a fencepost can sit in one place and wait for the world to change. I believe that to exist is to do–whether or not that doing has precisely the results you anticipated.

Because hard things are worth doing, not because you are guaranteed success at doing them, but because the alternative is to do nothing at all: to spend your life waiting for some more likely opportunity or greater goal. It is to reduce yourself to less than even that fencepost–which at least marks a legitimate place on the map. Where you are sitting? There, in your self-satisfied place of superior knowledge about the way the world has gone to the dogs and is no longer worth engaging yourself in? That place doesn’t even exist outside of  your own mind, and if it did, nobody would want to mark it down on a map or revisit it after once having the misfortune of passing through.

Get up and do something–anything! I won’t even mind how loudly you complain about life, if you are also participating in it. Don’t imagine, for one minute, that sitting there on the sidelines qualifies you to critique those who are.

You know what?

That’s… all I’m going to say on the subject.

Zip-it-lock-it-put-it-in-your-pocket.

End of story.

Amen.


Permission to Shine

I really believe this, and I wish that I could say it nearly as well, but Williamson (and not Nelson Mandela) says it so much better:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking So that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not in just some of us; It’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, We unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Marianne Williamson
A Return To Love (1992), Chapter 7


I Will Go, I Will Do

Someone in class today asked today what a person is to do when their reality falls far short of their dreams. What do you do when the longed for child does not come, or your college of choice rejects your application or blessings of health or employment fail to materialize. What do you do? Where do you go from that path that you never planned to be on, and feel you scarcely recognize as your own?

Besides the obvious Hallmark answers: counting blessings, looking on the bright side, etc.,  What do you do?

I said I unload the dishwasher.

You might think I was joking, but I wasn’t. Entirely.

I think I was fifteen years old or so when I sat across the desk from the ultimate authority figure in my life and was completely misunderstood. So misunderstood that I did not have the composure to speak up and say, “Wait, wait a minute, that’s not what I meant.”

I just sat there speechless, stunned.

We were discussing a recent problem I said something like, “You know, in a way, I’m glad it happened. I’m glad something happened.”

I meant: I’m glad that something real happened; I’m glad that there is some physical evidence of an elusive conflict I could never confront or define in the past. At least now, I have a place to curve my hand around and say, Here, right here–this is where I hurt.

What he heard, was a fifteen year old kid with black eye saying she was glad for a change-up in the boring routine of day-to-day get up, go to school, come home, repeat–as if, on some level, I had enjoyed the excitement of being clobbered.

I realized how very misunderstood I had been when he frowned over his fingertips and said, “Kimber, you know–there are two types of people in the world: those who wait for things to happen to them, and those who make things happen.”

I stared at him, totally astonished to have my words interpreted that way, and I didn’t protest. I left his office feeling utterly confused and humiliated.

And yet, those words have stayed with me for almost twenty years, and whenever I feel paralyzed by disappointment, sorrow or indecision, I close my eyes and I tell the ultimate authority in my life, Hey. I don’t know where to go from here. Help me to do something, anything. Where do I go from here?

Honestly, His advice usually runs something along the lines of unloading the dishwasher, or cleaning a window. Something benign but doable. And then I have to take it from there, even if I don’t feel like it, or understand it, or think that sorting the silverware is going to get me any farther along my path than I already am.

I can tell you that whenever I begin, no matter how small the opening steps, the path opens up in ways I never imagined in the midst of my former paralysis.

Sometimes you just have to do something. Anything. You have to get out of bed, put on your shoes, and make something happen. If you cannot face mailing out another application or having that talk with your boss or your child or your father or your spouse or your mother–do something you can do. If you’re a praying sort, you might want to ask for some direction. The important thing is that you act.

If you’re on the right track, you’ll soon recognize it. If you aren’t, that will become apparent too. If you huddle in fear at the crossroads, you just get cold and damp.

You’ve heard it said that faith without works is dead, and you might as well be, too. If you are not working at something, working towards something, you do not exist. Doing is the essence of humanity.


Lessons from a Salt Lick

My grandfather was a cowboy–one of those deeply weathered cowboys who doesn’t lose the tan on the back of his neck no matter what the season. He has brilliant blue eyes and legs bowed out to there. He has his Sunday boots, and his town boots and his barn boots; he has his Sunday hat and his work hat and his barn hat. I have never seen the man in running shoes. Or a t-shirt, for that matter… it’s a cowboy shirt with snaps. (Pearlized, on Sunday.)

He has worked as sheep shearer, cattleman, carpenter. He was always up with the sun, and busy with something. His greatest job was teacher, though. We loved it when he’d let us tag along–out to the barn at milking time, or off to a job site to pick up nails or stack wood.

One year he asked my brother and I if we’d like to deliver salt to the community pasture with him. He’d been hired by the town of Cardston to care for the cattle out there and since it involved horses and Grandpa, of course we said yes. We started out in the wee small hours in his beat up Chevy truck and drove out  to the pasture where we hitched up an old wagon, piled it high with salt blocks, and headed out. Grandpa held the reins as the sun came out and we could see wildflowers blooming and boy, we were on top of the world.

The licks came in blocks roughly the size of a gallon of milk and were colored a brilliant blue. We’d drive some mysterious distance that seemed to agree with Grandpa and then he’d hand the reins over to one of us, jump down off the wagon seat, and unload a lick or two onto the prairie sod. That’s it.

This went on for an hour or two and at one point my brother got into the back of the wagon to hand a block down to Grandpa. The horses chose that moment to be startled by something and off they took, just running. Grandpa was hollering and I was hauling back on those reins with all my fifty pounds of might, but those horses weren’t listening to a thing he or I said. I never prayed so hard in my young life as I did that day. I don’t remember what all happened, but somehow Grandpa caught up with those horses and got them under control. I’m sure it was far less terrifying than my child’s mind remembers it, but the only clear image I have of those few moments is the sight of my grandfather’s hands, torn and bloody, finally holding those reins again and his eyes looking into mine as he climbed up onto the seat beside me.

He assured me that I was never truly in danger but I was done playing cowboy; I wanted to go home. I also knew, however, that the bed of that wagon was just full of blocks still. I asked Grandpa if we had to deliver all the blocks. He agreed that this was true. I asked him how much longer. He said, “Well, I reckon until the job’s done.” He clicked his tongue to the horses and shook the reins and off we went. I asked him if I could get down and walk back to the truck. He said, “Well, yeah, I suppose you could do that, but it’ll be a long wait. Day’s just started.”

And that was that. He didn’t stop the wagon; we continued on at a steady pace and nothing else was said. He knew that no matter how frightened I’d become, that I was safer with him than without him. He also knew that I could outlast my terror, even if I didn’t know it. And I did endure. We had lunch out there somewhere where the horizon curves and when there were no blocks left and the sun was getting low, there was that blessed, predictable, smelly old truck again. We unhitched the horses and locked up the gate and it felt good to be done.

I’ve thought of that morning every time I get on the treadmill and want to quit when the odometer rolls over to 2 or 3 instead of enduring to 4. I thought of it when I groaned in a particularly difficult childbirth–or some days or nights of childcare, for that matter. I’ve thought of it every time I see a wagon or a team of horses or a salt lick. I think of it every time I read the story of Lot and his family fleeing their comfortable home. His wife is always tinged brilliant blue in my imagination–a salt lick in the shape of a woman, forever paralyzed on the plains. A woman who couldn’t help but look back with longing instead of forward with faith.

And whenever I have found myself gripping the creaking seat of whatever challenge is paralyzing me and have wanted again to plead, “Can’t I get off? Must I really continue this journey, today?” I have thought of the way Grandpa shook those reins and smiled out at the horizon and I have looked out at my own and tried to see it through his brilliant, ageless eyes. And I have endured.

Because he is always with me. Because I am safer with him than without him. Because he has always known I have it in me, whether I do, or not. And when I have ridden for so long that my bones feel like they will rattle right through my skin and my wagon is bouncing high in the ruts because it is bare and empty, there is always safety and comfort at the end of the journey and I am surprised to discover all I was capable of, in the end.

You are stronger than you think you are. You can endure more than you believe is possible for any human soul to endure. But you have to stay on the wagon. Sitting it out on solid ground is not an option. Sometimes all you can do is endure, but even that will get you somewhere.

In the words of Winston Churchill, “Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never.”


Bread on the Water

You probably know that my favorite all-purpose scripture is 2 Timothy 1:7, “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”

All-purpose or no, it seems there aren’t many scriptures more fitting for the start of a new year. Honestly, laziness probably factors more into my shortcomings than fear, but there is something about those three promises that steadies me; power, love, and a sound mind. These are our divine inheritance–every tool we need to succeed, no matter what our path.

I have trod some difficult ones, to be sure, but I have never walked them alone. I read once about Tashlich, a Jewish ceremony performed at the start of their new year in which bits of bread are cast into moving water, symbolizing the casting off of sin–both wrongs committed by us and against us.

I remember thinking—oh, if it were only as easy as casting bread upon water.  And yet I think that in a way, it is. We make millions of conscious little decisions every day that determine our future—whether to clench the wrongs tighter, or to let them go. I like the Tashlich tradition because it contains two elements—you, with your willing hand, and the water which carries the wrong away. Not to mention the fact that it is not a once in a lifetime occurrence, but a ceremony constantly revisited.

We cannot begin anew without the water. And for me, that constantly renewing source has always been my Savior. I cannot throw those wrongs far enough away on my own strength.

I don’t pretend to understand how the incomprehensible suffering of one man millennia ago could possibly have any potency in the lives of individuals today, but I know this: when I have cried out to God, in the name of his Son, that I cannot possibly endure another moment, He has lifted me—not by changing my circumstances but by endowing me with power that is neither my own nor my due—he has given me understanding when no solution seemed possible, compassion when I thought I had none, and clarity to face impenetrable tasks.

My faith in the renewing and empowering effects of the atonement of Jesus Christ is the only source of peace in my life; I am not nearly enough on my own and my circumstances are as faulty as yours. In the Mormon church, we do not gather around and cast the symbols of our sin upon moving water, but we do gather each week to partake of another symbol—the sacrament. I suppose it is similar to the Catholic communion.

Our sons are ordained to be priests at the age of sixteen, if they desire it. They break bread and fill the sacrament cups with water and they kneel in front of their mothers and fathers and men three and four times their age and they offer a humble prayer consecrating that bread and water “to all the souls who partake of it” in remembrance of the body broken and the blood shed for us so that we might be strengthened, purified, and filled with hope.

And then our twelve and thirteen year old deacons bring those emblems of Christ to the congregation. They dress respectfully, and pass it reverently. When they turn fourteen they arrive at church earlier than anyone else to ensure that all is in order for the Sacrament to proceed smoothly. There is no greater joy for a mother than to see her sons walking in paths of virtue, to be able to receive, from her son’s hand, such an offering.

You are, symbolically, the pall bearers of the Living Christ. You bring to each of us, not just at the start of a new year, but every Sunday, the possibility of a clean slate and a spotless future. I am profoundly grateful for that. I progress through each day because of it and I am filled with hope for the future. There is no weakness I cannot make stronger; there is no wrong I cannot move past.

Here’s to a new efforts and leaving past failures behind. I hope you find strength beyond your own in fulfilling all your endeavors.

Kimber