Sunday, May 29, 2011

Imagine a Life

Imagine life in poverty. Imagine life without a mother, or with an alcoholic father, or with family imprisoned. Imagine life with an abusive spouse or as a single mom. Imagine life after rape. Imagine life as an illegal immigrant, or with no food in the cupboards, or without education. Imagine life with mental illness. Imagine life in an arranged marriage, or as a series of co-habitations, or on the verge of divorce. Imagine life with disabilities or living in a hospital room. Imagine fearing violence in the street or dying from cancer.

Imagine life fighting for life and you can imagine my sisters.

As their Relief Society President, I’ve been given a tour of what used to be a plastic globe to me, but is now flesh and blood, lots of blood, too much blood. Women have washed themselves of it in the waters of baptism and now keep the commandments in a life that may be new and improved, but a life that cannot compare to Sister Mona’s charmed existence as an American. Or so they imagine. They love me for for my empathy (which gift I sometimes have too much of for my own good), but deep down, believe it can only go so far, which is true.

One day, while discussing the purpose of suffering in Relief Society, I made a dot in the center of the dry erase board and then drew a line all the way to the edge. I walked around the perimeter of the chapel, continuing an imaginary line, marker mid-air, until I came back to the dot on the board.

“Imagine this line as eternity,” I said. “And imagine this dot representing our mortal probation. As we agreed earlier in our discussion, we can only internalize many important lessons while on earth, through opposition, to prepare for all the rest.” I swept my hand around the room. “Is it any wonder then that with so much to learn in such a short time [pointing at the dot], that life is a crash course?”

They looked thoughtful.

“Yet we expect our ‘dot’ to be a smooth line in and of itself, with only occasional blips,” I continued the line metaphor, using the board to draw what looked like a healthy EKG; praying I was making sense to them.

Suddenly, a voice from the back rang out: “That may be YOUR life Mona,” (referring to the smooth line with a couple of hiccups), “but it’s not mine!

The room froze at the mockery in her voice. If we’d been in a Wild West saloon, everyone would have backed away, clearing the space between us.

“That’s not my point.” I answered carefully. “This little line is not MY life. This line is NOBODY’S LIFE.”

It got very quiet.

“Would you like to see MY life?” I raised the pen impulsively. “This is MY life.”

Then with emotion that startled everyone, including me, I drew an EKG that looked like a woman having a heart attack.

“That’s MY life!” I finished. They were stunned.

Earlier in our stay here, I had listened to a sister for thirty minutes on the phone. She told me about an incident in the ward years before that had wounded her feelings so deeply she found it impossible now to trust the sisters. “I worry for YOU,” she said, turning the conversation in a surprising direction. “I watch how happy you are, and I think, she is going to get hurt.”

The next day I got an email from another sister (one whom I knew was under terrific strain) that read: “Thank you for your example, dear Mona. I watch how happy you are and I think, WOW – she can only be that happy because she's been through a lot.”

Wow is right. One sister assumed I was happy because of the ABSENCE of adversity in my life and the other thought I was happy BECAUSE of it!

I mused over that for a long time and ruminated on the conversation in the classroom (which spawned tears and hugs afterward.) If our happiness quotient is directly related to a lack of tribulation, how realistic is it that we could ever go up the scale? Do we imagine our plastic twin living on a plastic globe with nothing to disrupt her tranquility? When I imagine my Eden-Eve, I realize she couldn’t be anything like Flesh-and-Blood-Me, and actually, I don’t think I'd want her kind of contentment. Our Little Dots, our ”small moments” (D&C 121:7-8), may be going haywire more often than not, and may sometimes be filled with even terrible things, but I believe it’s the only spot where we can become strong enough, or deserving enough, for a FULNESS of JOY (D&C 122:5-8), which IS coming.

And imagining THAT life is what makes me happiest of all.

"The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me…he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted… To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord…” (Isaiah 61:3)

Photography by Dreamstime

Beautifully related post by fellow Muser, Momza at MMB:
Growing Roots

Muse with me: What do you imagine life is about?

Sunday, May 22, 2011


When Dale slipped out the door to the airport this morning, I was still under the covers. It is never a pleasant sensation to wake up and realize he is gone. This morning I felt that an additional uneasiness -- the one I always feel when his destination is somewhere in the Middle East: a place where, as we all know, people and tradition clash in unforgiving ways. I lay in bed, reminiscing about our trip to Israel last fall...and then made the connection to another memory from a trip only weeks ago to...


Turning a corner in the Old Town of Stockholm, we barely avert being towed down the river of humanity suddenly surging round us. These people aren’t tourists – too much tension for that. The banners and chanting take deciphering -- Swedish to English – but we finally get it: this is a tide of disgruntled demonstrators called Communists. (Strange coming from a people with one of the lowest poverty rates in the world.) As I purposefully turn my eyes away from a confrontation between protestors and police on horseback, I glimpse something even more disturbing: a child in the middle of the parade on Daddy’s shoulders.

Tiberius, Israel

We enter another orthodox church of stone, built on a holy site, predictably full of wooden pews, stained glass windows, and shrines of golden saints. At least the cathedral is cool, if not awe-inspiring, and so I sit: near the middle, where I can watch people best. They come and go, site-see-ers seeking souvenirs and spirituality in the Judean desert. For the most part, they spend the ten minutes the tour operator has given them digitizing the dark crannies and dusty crypts, drifting without a program; except for the woman who suddenly bustles past me, a daughter of six or seven in hand. The woman stops with dead reckoning in the very center of the chapel and lowers one knee to the tiled floor, then bows her head. Two seconds later, Mother stands and turns to Child waiting two feet behind, pointing forcefully at the spot she just rose from. The girl moves quickly to mimic the rite verbatim; hair covering face, skirt beneath knee, almost a pratfall as she scurries out the door after her Model.

Jerusalem, Israel

From this hill, our three Israeli companions point out The Church of Holy Sepulcher, the Dome of the Rock, and the “Mormon University” on the opposite slope. Did you know we are Mormon, we ask? Surprised faces. We did not! We have some questions for you, they say. I leave it to Dale and sit beneath a tree a few yards away. The surreal aspect of the situation suddenly hits me, and I watch our animated friends with fascination. Earlier that day, Shlomi had explained that he was Jewish, but secular. When Benji joined us, his yamaka gave him away as orthodox, a Zionist actually. And as the day progressed, Moti made it clear that he practiced his religion, but moderately. Why? I had asked all three. Why do you believe and live as you do? Shlomi shrugged, Benji smiled, and Moti looked thoughtful, but their answers were word for word the same: I was raised that way.

Nazareth, Northern Israel

Our personal guide Aton, though well over 60, is powerfully built and moves so decisively, we have a hard time keeping up. Yet when he tells the stories of Jesus on the shores of Galliee, or reads Matthew 5 atop the Mount of Beatitudes, he holds very still and his voice is full of care. Tell us more, we say, about YOU: you are Jewish? I am. Yet you give tours of the Holy Land. Yes, I enjoy the faith of the Christians and wish I could believe too. Why don’t you? I was raised in a Kibbutz as an Atheist.


These and dozens of other experiences traveling abroad, have expanded my view of humanity. I appreciate in a new way how deeply rooted and interconnected faith and identity are. So entrenched become the belief systems of our childhood, that the scriptures use the word "riveted" to describe how "the creeds of men" are imbedded in "the hearts of the children."

I will treat the little people at church today with increased respect, and cannot help wishing, as a precursor to the wish for world peace, that all grown-ups would do the same for children EVERYWHERE.

Muse with me: How might this perspective affect the way you teach children?

Related Musings: Romance the Heart
Jerusalem, Jerusalem
Northern Israel in a Day

Highly recommended/ directly related
post by fellow Muser,
Bri Colorful:

Photos of children''s faces from Dreamstime

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Givers

Today was my turn. I admit it felt unnatural. I confess it took guts. I can tell you that I didn’t want to do it. But since I can’t perform arthroscopy on my own knee, I had to let them: I had to let others serve ME.

The doctors in the “operation theater” did perfectly; Nurses Ingrid, Fiona, and Sue Ellen pampered me sweet, and my husband is cooking dinner right now as part of his waiting-on-Mona-hand-and-foot-recovery- program. I’ll never forget his stroking my forehead while I regained consciousness and the whisper that came with a kiss. It’s an honor to serve you, he said.

Raising four children means I have played nurse and caregiver for a long time; my honey remembers the twelve times I have sat through his surgeries; extended family knows I have cared for them when they needed me; nearly forty years worth of callings has kept me busy in the church. But it was Ashley, my noble beauty and firstborn, the child who never grew up -- who has depended on me all her life to eat, to move, to be her voice -- that raised the question in my mind of who is serving who.

In her tiny days, Ashley’s therapy incorporated 275 volunteers over three years time. The program required my attention every waking minute and Dale had to work four jobs to pay for it, so members of the church and friends of other faiths assisted while they also did our laundry, cleaned our bathroom and, believe it or not, brought us dinner five nights a week for two years straight.

Old and young appeared on our doorstop every single day, flush with optimism, eager for their assignment, anticipating another 2 hours with Ashley. Witnessing the joy of this self-appointed army as they watched her crawl or walk for the first time -- the result of literally thousands of hours of incessant therapy -- I began to see things the way the volunteers saw them: Ashley was not “unfortunate”; nor did they regard her as an “opportunity” or a “project”. Rather, they revered her as their “Teacher”, even “Mentor” in the ways of patience, endurance, and unconditional love.

That is when I began to wonder: what is it about society that makes “HELP” a four-letter word? Why do we treasure our “independence” so much that many of us would rather die than “become a burden”? How is it that we assume the right to serve our fellowman, but mysteriously, never seem to need help from anyone else? Visiting Teacher wants to bring us dinner (no-no, we’re fiiiiiiine). Neighbor offers to mow the lawn (noooo really, we’ve got it). Ward Member asks if they can take the children for an hour or two so we can nap (oh pleeeease don’t worry about me). And yeeeet – WHO is the first to fill up the calendar and empty the pocketbook with “good works”?

The big news, that Ashley has spent her thirty-one years broadcasting (though she has never spoken a word), is that somebody has to be served in order for the rest of us to feel good about ourselves; somebody has to humble themselves so that the rest of us can grow; someone has to come to earth in challenging circumstances so that those around her can be proved.

Maybe it’s because my elevated leg is making all the blood to rush to my brain, or maybe it’s the pain-killers, but my musing tonight is in hyper-gear and I feel like carrying this train of thought all the way to The End and to The Beginning: to Alpaha and Omega. Think on THIS: Even God expects us to serve Him! The LORD of the Universe asks for our help, allows our help, even commands our help. WHY does HE want OUR help?!

Could it be because He knows all progress, the essence of the gospel, is based in Community and Reciprocity?

I love how Superman, while catching Lois Lane mid-tumble from a skyscraper, says: “Don’t worry miss. I’ve got you.” She’s dumfounded. “You’ve got me!” she cries. “Who’s got YOU?”

Indeed, who HAS got who? Would Superman be Superman without people to rescue? Supergirl Ashley has saved me and a multitude of other people, far more ordinary than she is, during her lifetime of “dependence”. In her frequent conversation with the angels, I’m sure those heavenly pals smile and exchange knowing glances every time she benevolently refers to all of us--her personal army--as “The Givers”.

Related Musings: Angel Talkin'
and Match Made in Heaven

Muse with me: Are you a giver or a receiver?

Beautifully related posts by fellow Musers this week:
Special mail to Aileen from her friend.
a touching post at The Alan and Lois Brown Family;.
Scarily Delicious, for a childlike view on "helping" at Crumb Crunchers;
Good Better Best, another fun one at A Splash of Life;
and Lisa reminds me why I braved surgery with
Running? at Nick and Lisa and Kids.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Toughing It Out

Budapest is populated with survivors. Even the buildings have outlived the ravages of war. Ottomans, Catholics, Protestants, Atheists, Communists and Nazis have competed, confronted, and crusaded, but never crushed this city. As I stood on our hotel balcony, gaping at the panorama perched above the Danube, I realized that this country, colored at that moment by the most fantastic sunset, was more alive and exciting than ever, only because Hungarians know too well how to tough it out.

Back in London, I received a text from a wife who was ready to leave her husband. “HE’S NOT WORTH IT,” she screamed in capital letters. “Ever since I married this terrible man, I have been miserable!”

“Are you saying that every day of your whole marriage has been totally unhappy?” My fingers flew in panic.

“No,” she admitted. “There have been good days and great ones too --” (I waited for the “but”…) “but there have been terrible ones like today!” Then rapidly and back to all capitals: “It’s UP AND DOWN and I CAN’T TAKE IT ANYMORE!”

Now I know for a fact that her husband is far from terrible and that she has been far from miserable. There is something about that fifth principle of the gospel: enduring to the end, which the Adversary takes particular exception with. He concentrates his forces on all of us in that stage of development but especially on those who are green in the gospel or in marriage or in parenthood.

While in Budapest, we walked with our personal guide, Peter Polczman. He told us they’d moved all the statues of toppled communist elites to a park where they have no one to preach to but each other. He pointed out what used to be Gestapo Headquarters and is now a museum. He led us down a residential street where old people sit on benches, watching young people hurry by.

“My grandmother,” he said, as we sat on a stone wall (the ruins of some empire or another), “has seen it all.”

“How did she survive?” I had to know.

“She just didn’t get worked up over things.” (I looked surprised.) “She knew everything would pass.”

Determined longevity clearly takes guts. But is it always the kind of guts that ‘screws courage to the sticking place'? Or can it be the kind that bobs, buoy-like, up and down, anchored in place? At fifty-two, I would agree with Peter’s grandmother: most of what we get worked up over is not here to stay. Our womanly days are rarely catastrophic; they just require coping – which, often enough -- is victory

Muse with me: Do you agree?

Beautifully related posts by fellow Musers this week: When in the Depths of the Sea or Enveloped by Fog at Valerie's Attempt at Pondering; We Came Here to FINISH the Race at Smith Family Crazies; Ever have one of "those" days at Domestic Diva Dishes All

For more pictures of Budapest, visit Mona's Musings on Facebook

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Finding Zion

Fellow Musers; I am happy to announce a return to Mona's Gospel Musings each Sunday. I hope you will join me again, and as we used to, muse together here. The romantic side of our time overseas (nearly a year now) has been mused upon at Mona's Musings with a Hint of Romance, which blog I will continue - featuring YOUR romances and more specific ideas on strengthening marriage. I have also been invited to become a regular contributor to Mormon Mommy Blogs (at least monthly). However, here we are at gospel musings, and its a Sunday, and so we begin. I love you and look very very forward to your thoughts.

As a new expat in the United Kingdom, I found I could regard people like postcards, idly turning them over in my mind with mild interest: three-dimensional-me did not expect to be included in a
world that felt like a guidebook. At church though, I assumed I would be find instant and comfy assimilation.

Cue the proverbial-culture-shock: we stood on, what to me, felt like an island called the Staines Ward: the most ethnically diverse group of Saints in all of London. Sunday after Sunday, I buzzed round the middle like a flustered bee hitting glass until at last we cross-pollinated: a magic moment that dissolved the window between us.

When I walked into the chapel that morning, I felt drawn to the woman on the other
side of the room. She watched me with a shy smile, perfect teeth and wide eyes glistening against a chocolate face. After Relief Society, she inched her way to me, ready to make contact, her beauty even more breathtaking at close range.

"I love your hair," she said.

What? It took me a split second to process her Nigerian spin on English. My hair? My hair is a mass of coarse curls, once brown, now streaked with unruly silver. I dislike it very much most days.

"I love your eyes and face and make-up," she continued passionately.

Blue eyes, white face, Bare Minerals.

"I love the way you talk -- and I loooove," (emphasis on love), "the way you dress."

Without taking my eyes off hers, I mentally compared a blue blazer and black skirt with her flowing...Flamboyant... FLORESCENT --

Oh my! She thinks I'm EXOTIC!

Sound of break glass.

A week later I
was called as Relief Society President of two hundred women from twenty different nations: a village with too many windows to look like 'Mormonville' to me, but nevertheless, built on the foundation of apostles and prophets; one faith and one baptism (Ephesians 4 & Mosiah 18). My sole journal entry for 11 July 2010 reads: "God help me.God

He did. He showed me that you cannot pack a box with scrapbooks, funeral potatoes, and snicker-doodle props, stamp it "Mormon Women" and ship it overseas. He taught me about the real Zion, a phenomenon that will not be defined or contained that way: it is organic. It breathes and grows and if necessary, shatters silly notions in order to expand (D&C 82:14). The tiny pane from which I used to view the world has, after a year amongst my sisters, morphed into a great glass conservatory and I contentedly dangle like a prism there, spinning in the sunlight.

Muse with me: What does Zion mean to you? What experiences have you had in the church that relate to the ideal of Zion?