Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Honoring some of the Females in My Life on Relief Society's Birthday

To celebrate the birthday of Relief Society this year, I decided to blog about some of the women who are or who have been closest to me in terms of family relations. This means that I will be leaving out some my closest women friends of which there are amazing, beautiful souls. So in no particular order.

Grandma Anderson: (My mom's mom) Generosity. If there isn't a good reason to say no, say yes. When I was about 12 or so, I wanted to go ice skating. In Provo there was an amazing ice skating rink called the Winter Gardens. The building was shaped like a turtle shell. It was huge, too. When we got tired of skating, we could warm up by the fire, or have a snack. Many will remember that it was later turned into a Macey's grocery store before being torn down completely. 

Well, I asked if I could go with some friends and my parents immediate response was not today. They didn't really have a great reason, from my point of view. And I admit, I would be upset as a parent, if the grandparent stepped in and undermined me, but that's what she did. I remember that she intervened and asked my parents why I couldn't go. She'd said, if I was ever going to be a good skater, I needed to go as often as possible and that it was good for me no matter what. I'm pretty sure she offered to pay. She very often handed out money when she visited. Needless to say, I got to go skating.

Plus she'd ask me what I wanted as far as her crocheting went. She made me slippers and several ponchos. They were actually popular in those days. Grandma was generous and kind. Generous with time, praise, gifts, money, and her exceptional even tempered personality. 

Nana Thayne: (Dad's Mom) Faith. When I was about 17, I stayed a couple of nights with my Grandma. This was unusual for me. Most of the other grandkids stayed with her often, but our family lived a ways away, and didn't hang out there much. So it was the first chance I had at really getting to know her. I knew she had asthma because she always carried around an atomizer in her big purse. One of the nights that I was there she went to bed in a room next to the guest room (the study with the pullout bed) and I could hear her wheezing in the next room. I finally got up to check on her and she was lying sideways with her feet sticking off the edge of her high bed. I asked what I could do and she said to call the elders. She told me to call her neighbor and ask her to get hold of someone from the ward. It must have been around midnight when they came, but they seemed more than happy to be there. Ready to serve. Happy to help. After they left, her labored breathing calmed and she slept through the night. Another thing I remember about her is that she believed that her dreams held answers for life. A visionary woman.

Mom: Grace. Not in the religious sense, though she is very faithful in her religion, but in the sense that she offers grace to everyone she knows, meaning she believes in the inherent goodness of people.  She assumes the best. I can safely say, I never heard my mother gossip about anyone in my growing up years. And if I tried to tell her a scandalous story, she seemed completely uninterested or offered an explanation of some kind, or that I shouldn't believe what I hear, or that there might be a reason for it. And most importantly, not to hold a grudge. She treats everyone with respect and kindness and nearly everyone treats her that way too.

Mother-in-law Ruth: I miss her. Read! Not only did she have a great education in a day when not many women from rural Utah did, but she continued learning and reading to the day she died. Whenever we would visit, there would be a book or two or three opened face down on the table next to her recliner. It doesn't seem like she used book marks though I could be wrong. The fact that she read and enjoyed, and bought and passed around copies of my novels was a great compliment to me. Her knowledge of the world was vast and there wasn't any subject that she couldn't talk about with at least some degree of knowledge. A truly brilliant woman.

Daughter GingerAdventure and courage. I once asked Ginger if she was ever scared, and she said "sometimes I am scared to death, but I just do it anyway." It over the yearincludes, to name only a few: rock climbing, bungee jumping, scuba diving, traveling nearly all over the world, living most often by herself in Central and South America, Denmark, San Francisco, and New York where she opened and ran her own restaurant, and now is learning Yoga in India. Take life and go. Anything is possible with enough desire and hard work. Make your own luck. Dreams can come true. A little courage goes a long way. Be confident and smile, you've got this. And she does. She has life by the tail.

Daughter-in-law Joanna: We won the lottery when it comes to our daughter-in-law, and there's a lot I could say about her as a wonderful mother and wife, but the trait that I'm trying to learn from her is diplomacy. As someone who sometimes speaks too quickly out of impatience, anger, frustration, hurt, or defense, I'd rather learn to hold my tongue, or when needed engage in a thoughtful meaningful way. Case in point. A couple of years ago, we attended an LDS branch near our cabin in Montana. There was a Relief Society lesson that was given that was not only racist, but railed on these "terrible feminist women who want the priesthood." At the time, I was in a place of deep hurt in regards to my faith. This lesson was not what I needed. Joanna raised her hand, and gently offered an alternative perspective about where a woman who wants the priesthood might be coming from and that always we should not judge the motivations of others, and to remember the Savior's example of love. Well, it calmed my heart. I whispered to her that she was my hero. Whenever, I'm able to calmly offer a loving response even when someone is triggering me, I call it being able to do a Joanna.

Granddaughter: Be authentic. She's only six, but she knows herself quite well. When she was five, she asked me if she could be something besides a mother. I told her she could and she said that her brother told her she if she was a mother she could be nothing else. I said, "well your dad is a teacher and father. Your mom teaches exercise classes besides being a mother." She said, well I want to be and listed five or six things that she wanted to be. I told her that was really great and that I was sure she could be those things. When we were back in the car, I said, I think it's great that granddaughter wants to be everything. She piped up, "I didn't say I want to be everything, I said that I want to be everything that I want to be." I loved that distinction. How silly to think or even want to be everything--there are far too many options. But to be what you really want to be--well that's pretty doable. What a great start she has. 

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Letting Go of George

Remember the Seinfeld episode where George Castanza is  obsessed with everyone liking him, especially Jerry’s girlfriend. He tried so hard to be funny, to be helpful, and to be nice in an effort to please. He was deeply troubled when he found out that Jerry’s girlfriend didn’t like him. So then in an effort to win her over, he over compensated, and doubled his efforts. In one scene he lamented. “Why doesn’t she like me?” And Jerry’s response was something along the lines of, not everyone has to like you George. But George insisted that everyone must like him. He then ruminated over every word and every action. He stopped enjoying the present. He stopped listening to his own girlfriend and in the end, he loses her admiration too. 

I believe most of us can relate to George. I like to be under the illusion that everyone likes me. And for the most part I think people do, people who really know me. But I can remember about every time when I discovered that someone didn’t. It still stings when I think about the time at girls camp at Camp Mia Shalom where I was outside of a cabin and overheard my most trusted friends talking about me negatively. When one of them came outside and saw me there, she bee-lined back in and the gossip stopped. I acted nonchalant as if I didn’t care or had even  heard. But I never felt as safe with my friends after that. 

Working towards authenticity can be a painful process. Learning to live my religion the best way I know how, not the way others would have me live it is hard. Especially when we are like George and truly want to be liked—not just by those who already do—but by everyone. But often if we worry so much about what others think we end up squelching who we are. We silence our voice and we snuff out our own light and if we carry it far enough, we might end up not pleasing anyone, especially ourselves. How often do we stick our necks out and share something that has become a truth for us. And then when we do and someone criticizes it, we are like the turtle who pulls back into his shell, afraid to show our true selves again. 

It’s quite possible that the only voice we listen to is the one who shoots us down, instead of those who respect our vulnerability. It is possible to respect someone while disagreeing with someone. Honoring others experiences and truths and realizing that everyone sees through the lens of their lives differently is essential to friendship and understanding differences. 

I am often that thirteen-year-old girl sitting outside of the cabin. I still really want to fit in, and like George be liked by everyone, and am still hurt when I find out that friends are talking about me in less than flattering terms. Years ago I sat in a bishop’s office and shared some painful baggage I’d been carrying. The baggage was one of doubt—doubt about the church I’d been raised in. Like a good shepherd, he respected where I was at, and observed that I might care too much what people think about me. Before this bishop was released he would occasionally remind me that I was okay. And to not worry and do what I needed to do. I’ve come to find out years later, that he was right. 

I used to hear the adage carries their heart on their sleeve. I didn’t know until my 50’s that it describes me. When we have a wound, it’s often a good idea to pull off the bandage occasionally and let it air out. But in self-protecting we want to cover our blemishes, hide our wounds, and hide our flaws. Once I shared my burden of doubt with a leader who hadn’t yet earned my trust, and who didn’t know me. But I shared anyway hoping to be understood and when I was not respected, I ended up feeling betrayed and hurt. It took me a long time to stick my neck out again. But eventually when I spoke up, I found new friends because of it. I found others sharing their vulnerable truths with me.  And my old friends who already knew the real me continued to be there for me. As much as I love the guy, someday I will learn to let go of George Castanza.